Helping Our Peninsula's Environment


Carmel River Vital & Imperiled

Overview - Our Carmel River is critically important to humans and two imperiled species (the steelhead and Mark Twain's Celebrated red-legged frog), yet it is highly imperiled by massive overpumping causing it to run dry - even in wet years which has killed hundreds of endangered species; and by pesticides, pathogens, and fecal coliform.

Clean Water Importance

The Carmel River serves as the source for 70% of the drinking water for the some 100,000 residents of the Monterey Peninsula. It also is the highly important host habitat for at least two species listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act: The West Coast Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Mark Twain's celebrated California Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora draytonii).

The Carmel River is critically important for the recovery of both imperiled species.

  • The US-National Marine Fisheries Service designated the Carmel River as Critical Habitat for the steelhead on February 16, 2000. 
  • "...given the importance of the Carmel River Steelhead population for recovery of steelhead coastwide,..." US-National Marine Fisheries Service, SW Region letter May 20 1996 
  • The US Fish & Wildlife Final Recovery Plan for the California Red-Legged Frog includes all 255 square miles of the Carmel River Watershed (not merely the river, but all land surrounding the river asa well). May 28, 2002 
  • All 255 square miles of the Carmel River watershed was designated as "Critical Habitat" for the California red-legged frog by federal ecologists at US-Fish & Wildlife Service. 

Carmel River Overpumping has killed, and will continue to kill, hundreds of Imperiled Animals

Overpumping Killing Imperiled Steelhead

US-National Marine Fisheries Services, SW Region letter Oct 10,97 "...Water District Senior Fisheries Biologist Dave Dettman counted 289 dead juvenile steelhead in the Robinson Canyon to Shulte Road reach of the Carmel River.

Mr. Dettman observed that the cause of the fish kill was due to no, or minimal flows, and high water temperatures. The fish kill was attributed to pumping rates at Cal-Am wells in excess of Stream flows, and recharge capacity. If these allegations are true, Cal-Am's practices could be significantly affecting a fish species that NMFS has listed for protection under the ESA."

"WR 95-10 Conditions are inadequate in light of the subsequent ESA listing for steelhead and designation of critical habitat and because steelhead are continuing to be taken every year due to the overpumping." - Comments by Steve Edmondson, Team Leader, Fishery Biologist in the Northern California Habitat Conservation Division of the United States Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in testimony to California Water Resources Control Board May 30, 2000 in Monterey, CA.

Overpumping Killing Imperiled Frogs 

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alleges and Cal-Am disputes that all or about August 31 through September 3, 1987, Cal-Am, by and through its agents, employees or officers, did cause the take of the California Red Legged Frog in the Carmel River by withdrawing water from August 29 through September 1, 1997 ("Labor Day Weekend") at Scarlet Well No. 8, causing the drying up of the river at that location and the subsequent injury or death of the California Red Legged Frog, in violation of the Endangered Species Act." - Agreement between Cal-Am Water Company and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed March 2, 1999 by Judith Almond, Manager, Monterey Division, Cal-Am Water Company.

US-FWS letter Dec 10 1997 "Existing water diversions along the Carmel River may be resulting in the take of the threatened The California Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora draytonii)." 

"The Service is concerned that water diversions along the Carmel River may be resulting in the take of the threatened California Red-Legged Frog."

"Unauthorized take of California Red-legged frogs in the Carmel River may have occurred as a result of excessive water pumping at Scarlet Well No. 8 on August 29, 30, 31 and September 1, 1997." --

US-FWS letter July 20 1997 to the SWRCB Chairman Titled "Potential Endangered Species Act Violation for the California Red-Legged Frog from Water Diversions on the Carmel River, Monterey County, California."

Agency Actively Ignoring Physical Impacts

The adverse physical environmental impact of dewatering a river is distinct and independent from a legal right to pump water. Monterey County agencies are uniformly ignoring this distinction as of May 1999 and asserting that if a party has a legal right to water - no physical environmental impact exists. Agencies blatantly ignoring this include: The Monterey Water Management District, Monterey County (Pebble Beach Lot Program EIR), Pacific Grove (dozens of building permits per month), Seaside (Mariott Hotel) and Sand City (Dunes Hotel).


Giardia - U.S. EPA uses 10 oocysts of Giardia / 100 liters as a level of significant concern.

Cal-Am (the local water pumper and purveyor) reported 32 oocysts / 100 liters of Giardia in Monterey Peninsula drinking water in 1998 - three times that limit.

Cryptosporidium - in drinking water killed 104 people in Milwaukee in 1994.

Cal-Am also reported 14 oocysts / 100 liters of Cryptosporidium in Monterey Peninsula drinking water in 1998.

This is far above the amount in the water which caused a Cryptosporidiosis outbreak in England. ("Cryptosporidium Oocysts in a Water Supply Associated with a Cryptosporidiosis Outbreak." Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 8, No. 6 June 2002, Center for Disease Control

Cyanbacteria - "Mystery Poison found in Carmel River" "Health Dept warns that children, pets should stay away." -Carmel Pine Cone Headlines Sept 19 1997.

At least three dogs died from Oct 1996 to September 1997 immediately after drinking from the standing pools in the Carmel River. One attending veterinarian suspected a blue-green algae (also known as cyanbacteria), but there was no investigation. "I've been here 35 years and never seen anything like this before." said Carmel Valley veterinarian Gerald Petkus. County Health Dept Director Melton said two other dogs died after drinking water in 1996. No water samples were taken. According to Melton the algae is "very toxic to any animal" (this presumably includes humans).

Nutrients & Fecal Coliform

The AMBAG 1998 Population Forecast included a "Resources Constraints" section which found Carmel Valley is at or beyond septic tank capacity now. Because of the saturation, Carmel River water contact is prohibited during flooding because of the risk of infection.

According to AMBAG's 1998 Population forecast Monterey County Environmental Health Dept. found the following areas are "at, or approaching, septic systems carrying capacity:"

  • Bolsa Knolls area north of Salinas (CT 105.01 & CT 1) 
  • Carmel Valley Village (CT 110) 
  • Mid-Carmel Valley area (CT 116 & CT 100)

"In the following areas there are blanket restrictions on both further subdivisions and second units due to nitrate contamination potential:

  • Carmel Valley Village (CT 110) 
  • Mid-Carmel Valley area (CT 116 & CT 100) 
  • Prunedale Area (Ct 103.01) 
  • We feel that, at least, the lower twelve (12) miles of the Carmel River are impaired due to Nutrients & Fecal Coliform.


There are four golf courses directly adjacent to the lower Carmel River and two more adjacent to two if its tributaries. (Rancho Canada 1 & 2, Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Rancho San Carlos and Tehama.)

One of the main four golf courses used some 2,000 pounds of pesticides in a recent year according to records in the County Agricultural Commissioner's office. Our Peninsula drinking water wells are downstream of all six golf courses. Until about 4 years ago the wells were upstream of the golf courses.

Carmel Valley also hosts agriculture and houses with expansive lawns. You may not know that house landscaping can still use deadly and persistent pesticides which are banned from agriculture.

In spite of our respectful requests the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the water purveyor (Cal-Am) and the Monterey County Health Dept have each refused to test the river for the pesticides which are known to be applied directly adjacent to the river.

  • HOPE believes that, at least, the lower seven (7) miles of the Carmel River are possibly impaired due to pesticides.

HOPE believes the Carmel River urgently needs a water testing program to determine which pesticides are running off into the Carmel River. We recommend a "First Flush" program using bioassay testing, rather than mass-spectroscopy, and an "Ambient toxicity" study using biota.

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831 / 624-6500 P.O. Box 1495, Carmel, CA 93921

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This Page Last Updated April 15, 2003

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