Helping Our Peninsula's Environment

State of Monterey Peninsula Water in July 2018

(Dry Carmel River bed upstream from Highway 1 - January 6, 2009. It looked identically dry in October, 2017)

Why is Monterey Peninsula Enduring an Official Water Emergency? 

Physical Impacts vs. Legal Impacts

    1. State Rules Two-Thirds Of Our Water Is Illegally pumped.
    2. Overpumping Kills Officially Listed Species and Threatens them with Extinction - Violating Endangered Species Act. 

* * * Non-Solutions * * *

  • Voters turned down Pro-Growth Desalination Plant in 1993   
  • Voters turned down Pro-Growth Dam in 1995  
  • Federal Wildlife Agencies Refuse Any Carmel River Dam, Encourage Aquifer Storage 

* * * Real Water Solutions * * *

  • Combining Several Alternatives for our Water Supply Minimizes Costs and Environmental Harm 
  • Water Supply Alternatives Menu 

Monterey Peninsula Officially Declared "Water Emergency"

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District declared a "Water Supply Emergency" in 1998, which is still in effect and reconfirmed regularly as recently as January 2009 (no one doubts it will be reafirmed January 2014) - with no end in sight. A previous Water Supply Emergency was declared in 1990 and was temporarily rescinded when an additional 150 acre feet of water was added to the Cal-Am system by the Seaside Peralta well. This article describes the circumstances leading to this extraordinary situation.
It is hard to overstate the severity of the harm we have caused, and are still doing to our community and our fragile environment. 
As a community we are not simply "nearing" a Peninsula crisis, and an environmental crisis, or "just a little over" a critical threshold. No, we are massively past that. Every year we overpump three (3) times the amount of water we can legally take. Three times the amount we can legally use. Two-thirds of every glass of water you drink here is illegally pumped.
We are not merely inconveniencing a few ordinary creatures - no, Because of our overpumping - we are continually killing some of our planets most imperiled animals including the beautiful West Coast Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) Trout and the California Red-legged frog..

Governor Schwarzenegger Declares Statewide Water Supply Emergency

On February 27, 2009, California’s Governor Schwarzenegger declared a statewide Water Supply Emergency in part due to three years of statewide drought. He had previously declared a statewide drought on June 4, 2008.

Monterey County Has A Desert Climate

Maps from the 1800s designated the Salinas Valley as the "Salinas Desert." Similarly, although it has a wonderful forest, the Monterey Peninsula is not in a rainforest, nor is it in the American Midwest or Deep South where rain often occurs daily - Our Monterey Peninsula is in a semi-desert climate. The Monterey pine forest has adapted to obtain its summer water from fog.
California Water is Severely Over Used by Humans
The 1998 California Water Plan (Bulletin 160) states that California used 78 million acre feet of water in 1995. In 1977 during statewide drought runoff totaled only 15 million acre feet of water.
This means that, as a state, we needed and used five (5) times more water in 1995 than we received in the 1977 drought.

Carmel River has Severe Physical Water Limits

Data collected by the National Weather Service over the past 39 years show that Carmel Valley, the primary water source for the Peninsula, only gets an average of 18 inches (or less) of rain a year. 

Monterey Peninsula Has Had Decade and Century Long Droughts

Although precipitation records for 1,000 years ago are somewhat less accurate than those we take now because they are obtained from tree-ring analysis, we can determine this: Since the 1600-1625 drought the Monterey Peninsula area has experienced numerous other decade long droughts. In the last thousand years the Central California has experienced two droughts lasting more than 100 years. One from the year 912 AD to 1112 AD and another from 1210 to 1350 AD. The year 1841 had less than a half inch of rain.

Formerly Year-Round "Carmel River Now Dries Up - Even In Wet Years"

Even though our area is in a permanent state of drought, until the 1960's the Carmel River ran year round to the ocean. Steelhead trout were so abundant some people used pitchforks to catch them. Schoolchildren report riding horses deep into the river even in late summer. This is after both large dams were operating in the upper Carmel River. 
Growth in human water use (subdivisions and golf courses) has caused severe overpumping of our Monterey Peninsula's primary water source. Our Carmel River now runs dry (about 6 miles upstream from the river mouth) even during wet years. 
(Dry Carmel River bed upstream from Highway 1 - Nov 22, 2003)

Carmel River Overpumped Since at Least 1977

In 1977 only 3,500 acre feet of water rained into and ran down the Carmel River, yet only 10 years later in 1987 the Peninsula used over 18,000 acre feet of water -- more than five times as much water as fell in 1977!
More than two-thirds (71 percent) of the water for the Monterey Peninsula is pumped from the Carmel River watershed. The remainder is pumped from the Seaside basin. Both have been officially declared as overdrafted. 
In 1990 the total water allocation (maximum amount of water for human use) for our Monterey Peninsula was reduced from 20,000 af / year to some 17,300 af / year. 
In 1977 Monterey Peninsula residents were forced into 50% rationing by the Public Utilities Commission who also declared a building moratorium. At that time (1977) humans were endangering the Carmel River by overpumping. In spite of that stern warning, local government officials have repeatedly refused to stop approving new water hookups.

9,000+ New Water Connections Since 1977 Overpumping Realization (including several golf courses) 

In 1977-78 the State Legislature created the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District which removed the rationing and moratorium. This resulted in a rapid increase in the number of hookups. Since the 1977 rationing and moratorium, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has allowed more than 9,000 new water connections (note 1) and their attendant pumping and river dewatering. This includes three (3) finished golf courses. This does not include three (3) more approved golf courses or three further with approvals that haven't been finished or the three further proposed golf courses which the Water District is expected to allow. (There are currently 19 golf courses operating within the Peninsula Water Management District boundaries.) 
This increase in hookups caused a decrease in the amount of water available for everyone and an increase in dewatering of the Carmel River from overpumping, leading to habitat harm for many animals and plants including "continuing take" of 

the FESA listed West Coast Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) trout and 

the FESA listed  California Red-legged frog.

This increased pumping also increases the risk of harm to physical health and safety to Peninsula residents from losses of water quantity and quality. 
Prior to 1977 Peninsula water tasted pleasant, never had bubbles or a dirty brown tint in late summer, or smelled of chlorine.

Water Now Pumped From Carmel River Mouth - No longer From Upstream Dams

Until 2001, Peninsula drinking water was pumped from the San Clemente Dam some 18.6 miles upstream from the river mouth. As of 2002 we now let the river flow downstream before it is pumped out for us so the river and its inhabitants get the benefit of the water first. The only exception to this is Carmel Valley village which gets its water from upstream.

Seaside Basin Severely Overpumped Too 

All remaining Cal-Am water, about 30 percent, which does not come from the Carmel River is pumped from the Seaside Basin. 

2005 - As of February 2005 a report to the Management District states, the Seaside Basin is sustainable only if we cut back the water we pump by one-third -- (reduce pumping to 3,000 acre feet per year from the 4,500 af we've been pumping in previous years).

2004 - "The Seaside basin has been overpumped past its safe yield [of 4,375 acre feet per year] in 4 of the past 7 years." Water District Staff Jan 2004 

1998 - "The Seaside Basin is already in an overdraft status. See the Final EIR on this project (e.g. pp. 155, 157, 158) and the Report of California Coastal Commission Staff dated April 22, 1998 (e.g. pp. 4 and 25-28). That same conclusion has been reached by the [Water] District's own consultant. Any further users of the Seaside Basin will only exacerbate the present overdraft condition, invite sea water intrusion thereby potentially destroying the resource for all users, and place greater pressure on the Carmel River basin in direct contravention of the orders of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). SWRCB has ordered Cal-Am to reduce its production from the Carmel River Basin (or suffer fines, which fines may be passed on to Cal-Am's ratepayers) and has directed Cal-Am to maximize its use of the Seaside Basin. 

Under the District's Rule 22 D the District should not grant a permit 'if the Board finds and determines that the permit: 

1. Will create an overdraft or increase an existing overdraft; or 

2. Will adversely affect that ability of existing systems to provide water to users.'" 

(Letter to Water District from Cal-Am's Lawyer September 7, 1999)

Seaside Basin Water Level Dropping - Could cause Sea-water Intrusion Soon

What's worse is that the "groundwater levels are dropping despite a series of normal and above normal" rainfall years. (Water Board Staff presentation January 29, 2004)
This will cause seawater intrusion whenever the levels drop below sea level. Sea-water intrusion can contaminate the drinking water for the whole Seaside basin.

Laguna Seca Subarea is Newly Overdrafted

In November 2002, the Water District finalized the Laguna Seca Phase III Hydrogeologic Update. This study showed "the Subarea is in overdraft," that "groundwater levels are declining," and "the situation will likely worsen with time..." 
Ryan Ranch is a separate Cal-Am water distribution system within the Seaside Basin. In May 2004, Cal-Am's Steve Leonard reported that their wells in Ryan Ranch were "sucking air." After the wells were drilled another 60 feet deeper they resumed pumping, but the water now has to be treated because of the increase in a pollutant called manganese.

Salinas River Overpumped Too - Massive Sea Water Contamination

According to Monterey County Water Resources Agency, the Salinas River groundwater basin is overpumped by some 40,000 to 50,000 acre feet more per year than is replaced by groundwater recharge. 
According to the State Water Resource Control Board the Salinas River groundwater basin has the worst sea water intrusion in California.
This means that taking water from some other area of Monterey County for Monterey Peninsula use is a cumulative impact on the total water of the County.

Peninsula Water Not Connected to Rest of State's Water

Unlike San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Central Valley, the Monterey Peninsula (and the Salinas Valley) are not connected to any other California water infrastructure, nor are the Peninsula and Salinas water systems connected. Whatever water we use must be obtained here.

San Clemente Dam is Filled with Silt & Gravel

The San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River (seen above), was built in 1921 with a capacity of 2136 acre feet. Today, in 2004, it is now filled (less than 50 acre feet remain) with fine silts, rocks and sediments. (You can see the sediment behind the dam on the left side.) At 66 feet, it has the highest fish ladder in California which simply cannot work at all now that the dam surface has been lowered.
The Los Padres Dam was built in 1949 with a capacity of 3,030 acre feet. Its capacity is now reduced to about 1200 acre feet. The 1,800 af has been lost as it filled with silt, rocks and sediment. 

Physical Impacts vs. Legal Impacts

The adverse physical environmental impacts of dewatering a river is distinct from a legal right to pump water. Monterey County agencies are uniformly ignoring this distinction as of May 1999 and falsely claiming that if a party has a legal right to water - no physical environmental impact can exist. Agencies blatantly ignoring this include: The Monterey Water Management District (9,000 water meter permits), Monterey County (Pebble Beach Company Lot Program, Rancho San Carlos, September Ranch, Tehama Golf Course), Pacific Grove (dozens of building permits per month), Seaside (Mariott Hotel and First Tee golf course) and Sand City (Dunes Hotel).

Carmel River is a Fully Appropriated Stream (FAS)

"The Carmel River watershed was added to the SWRCB's List of Fully Appropriated Streams (FAS) for the period May 1 to Dec 31 (by SWRCB Decision 1632 in 1995 and WR 98-04)." This means no additional Summer water pumping rights from the lower 17 miles (up to Sleepy Hollow) of the Carmel River can be given or obtained by anyone.

All Monterey Peninsula Water Is Illegal - In Two Different Ways -

1. State Rules Two-Thirds Of Our Water Is Illegal.

Two-Thirds of all water we get from our kitchen sinks on Monterey Peninsula is illegal. The primary water supplier for the 105,000 residents of our Monterey Peninsula, Cal-Am, has no legal right to pump 70 percent of the water it is taking from the Carmel River and has been illegally selling us water for decades. 
This is because the Peninsula's main water provider, California-American Water Company during the 1978 to 1995 period was pumping a significant amount of water without legal water rights. 
In 1995, after dragging their feet for eight (8) years since the first complaint, the California Water Resources Control Board (CWRCB) ordered Cal-Am to cut back their water pumping to the amount of legal rights they owned. This cut some 11,000 af out of a normal 16,000 af of water pumped yearly. Failing to comply with the 1995 order Cal-Am was fined $168,000 in 1997 by the CWRCB. 
This means any new water connection will be pumping illegal water. Any new water connection will worsen an existing illegal situation and worsen a critical health and safety issue for our Monterey Peninsula. In addition there is abundant evidence that existing levels of water pumped from the Carmel River is killing US-Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species! - the West Coast Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and the California Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora draytonii).

Carmel River Pumped Far Beyond Sustainability

71 percent of the Monterey Peninsula's water is pumped from the Carmel River by Cal-Am, owned by American Water Works of New Jersey. Smaller amounts are pumped by Cal-Am from a Seaside aquifer and by some 200 private wells on the Carmel River. 
In turning down the September Ranch Project in Sept. 1999 Judge Silver cited how in 1988 Monterey County "as an urgency ordinance, adopted Ordinance 3310. (AR 1209) The findings in support of the Ordinance stated '(A)s a result of such excessive and expanded water usage in the areas defined herein, the potential exists that Monterey County's allocation of water will be exhausted so as to pose an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare.' Because of this perceived crisis the Ordinance prohibited new development, with certain defined exceptions, which resulted in an increase in the use of water over that level of use existing at the time the Ordinance was applied to the property." 
Even pro-Dam advocates admit the Peninsula is out of water - former pro-development Water Board member Jim Hughes stated in his (losing) 1999 campaign "I tell cities - We're out of water. So don't come asking me for any." Monterey County Association of Realtors spokesperson Sheryl McKenzie said "There's no water out there." at Water Transfer hearing May 15, 2000

2. Overpumping kills Officially Listed Species and Threatens them with Extinction - Violating Endangered Species Act.

"The Carmel River goes dry - even in good years. It is killing steelhead." US-National Marine Fisheries Service, Senior Advisor Joseph Blum in formal comments to the California Department of Fish and Game Commission Apr 6, 2001 singling out the Carmel river from all California rivers because of the dewatering impacts to the ESA listed steelhead and California Red-Legged Frog. 

During the 1987 to 1995 time period the steelhead trout run in the Carmel River dropped precipitously. Zero fish arrived for four years at the beginning of the 1990s. Only single digit numbers of the species showed up for 6 of the last 10 years. This, among other things, caused the steelhead to be federally listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. 
The California Red-legged Frog was also recently listed (1996) by the US-Fish & Wildlife Service. The headwaters of the Carmel River host one of the three "largest" (really meaning non-tiny) remaining populations of the frog. 
In 1997 there was serious "take" (deaths due to river dewatering) of the steelhead and the frog, which experts find almost certainly due to overpumping of the Carmel River.

Watershed Drawdown Impacting Fisheries:

"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. 

US-National Marine Fisheries Service, SW Region letter Nov 6 1991 Draft EIR comments: "Excessive drawdown of [the Carmel Valley and Seaside] aquifers results in a dry lower Carmel River, such that river flow does not reach the sea, preventing steelhead migration." "As the populations and water demand grow, mandatory water rationing and water shortages during droughts will be more severe, and fisheries impacts could worsen." 

"We are not sure whether either the CDFG instream flow recommendations or the MPWMD flow recommendations are appropriate to adequately restore the steelhead run." 

Steelhead Take (killed by human action) - US-Nat. Marine Fisheries Service, 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." 

Overpumping a stream reduces it to pools connected only by dry riverbed. SWRCB Memorandum Nov 1999 in File 262.0(27-08-01) - "[W]hen the fish are confined to pools such as this, the opportunity for predation is significantly higher than during periods of continuous flow..." (pg 7) "[L]ow [streamflow] flow periods are times when aquatic organisms are most susceptible to predation. Although the stream habitat may exibit the capability to support large numbers of fish at a relatively low flow, there are significant population declines among aquatic organisms during these periods because the aquatic habitat is more accessible to land and avian predators." (pg 10) 

Carmel River Steelhead Population Importance: US-National Marine Fisheries Service, SW Region letter May 20 1996 "...given the importance of the Carmel River Steelhead population for recovery of steelhead coastwide,..."

Imperiled Frog Deaths Due To Overpumping - US-FWS letter Dec 10 1997

"Existing water diversions along the Carmel River may be resulting in the take of the threatened 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." 

Frog Take - 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."

* * * Non-Solutions * * *

  • Voters turned down Pro-Growth Desalination Plant in 1993  
  • Voters turned down Pro-Growth Dam in 1995  
  • Federal Wildlife Agencies Refuse Any Dam, Encourage Aquifer Storage 

Voters turned down Pro-Growth Desalination Plant in 1993

In a 1993 campaign led by Water Board member Dick Heuer the voters turned down a Pro-Growth Desalination Plant. Heuer, a Dam supporter, got some (anti-Dam) environmental support by saying "Fight the pro-growth Desalination plan now and then you can fight the dam later."

Voters turned down Pro-Growth Dam in 1995

Led by the Sierra Club and joined by Esalen tribe and disenfranchised Cachagua residents, Peninsula voters resoundingly voted down (57% to 43%) the huge (24,000 acre foot) New Los Padres dam; the dam advocated by all the Peninsula's Mayors and by Water Board Chair Fran Farina. The Environmental Impact Report (prepared by Staff member Henrietta Stern) was later overturned by Judge Richard Silver. 
The only Peninsula public officials to oppose the dam were Assembly candidate Fred Keeley,Pacific Grove Councilman Terrence Zito and Carmel Councilwoman Barbara Livingstone.

Federal Wildlife Agencies Refuse Dam, Encourage Aquifer Storage

The Federal Agency with the duty to protect the imperiled Steelhead, National Marine Fisheries Service, "has expressed strong reservations about the potential adverse effects of a [Dam on the Carmel River] because "it would have a dramatic adverse effect on the natural hydrology of the river, it would inundate very high quality spawning and nursery habitat, and the reservoir would be a significant barrier to downstream migrating juvenile and adult fish.""

* * * Real Water Solutions * * *

  • Combining Several Alternatives for our Water Supply Minimizes Costs and Environmental Harm  
  • Water Supply Alternatives Menu 

Combining Several Alternatives for our Water Supply Minimizes Costs and Environmental Harm

During the 1995 New Los Padres Dam debates dam proponents refused to listen to (let alone support) the concept of multiple types of water sources to solve our problem. Now however, the public, the media, most of the Water Board, the Public Utilities Commission, and even some pro-growth advocates now realize that to minimize costs and environmental impacts we need to put together several pieces to solve our water problem.

Click Here to read  Water Supply Alternatives Menu

# # #

Best Water Conservers

#1 Peninsula Residents. 

We use, per person, less water on average, than in any other water system in California. Yet during rationing - while each of us "shall" ration or face serious money fines - golf courses get a free ride (the Board merely has to "consider" whether to ration them !) and businesses only have to try to use "best practices." No financial fines for them!

Largest Carmel River Water Users (or Wasters)

#1 Cal-Am (the Peninsula commercial water delivery corporation)

Cal -Am admits they lose around 9 percent of the 14,000 acre feet they pump every year due to many things including poorly maintained leaking pipes. In 2003 Cal-Am "lost" more than 1,370 acre feet of water, enough for at least 6,000 peninsula families during a drought. Cal-Am could argue they water isn't used - it leaks back into the Carmel River aquifer -- unless it leaks in Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Seaside, Del Rey Oaks or Monterey - where it would be lost into the ocean. The problem is they don't know (or won't disclose) where it is leaking. 
Cal-Am claims that not all of the 1,370 acre feet of water is lost, that some of it goes to fire fighting and hydrant flushing. 

#2 The Unknown Golf Curse - probably one of the Peninsula's 18 golf courses. 

Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Course used 372 acre feet of water in 1988. That's enough water for at least 1,500 homes during a drought.
Peninsula Golf courses use between 7 and 12 percent of our Peninsula's water. While some are not using Cal-Am water, except for Laguna Seca, they use Carmel River water.

#3 Unknown. 

HOPE has repeatedly and politely requested a list of the top 200 water users in the Water District since 1997 - with no response whatsoever.

Note 1: According to Cal-AM's PUC filing records, in Dec 1977 there were 29,964 "general metered customers"; in Dec. 2001 there were 38,476. That's a difference of 8,512 new connections. The Water Management District's 2002 Annual Report states - "In 2002, a total of 925 water permits were issued." In 2003, the Annual Report states 1,195 water permits were approved. The 496 from 2004 and the 1,195 from 2003 must be added to the 8,512.
Water Connections
1977-2001   8,512
2002          925
2003        1,195
2004          496+
Total      11,000+ since 1977 drought

Feedback - Info(at)

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

Search HOPE's Website:

powered by

Or Search the whole Web with IxQuick