Celebration of the Largest Dam Removal in California History Held Today

Elected officials, conservation groups and community leaders from across the state gathered in Carmel Valley today to celebrate the completion of the San Clemente Dam and Carmel River Reroute Project. The event, hosted by California American Water, in partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, included state and federal representatives as well as leadership from various nonprofit organizations that contributed to the dam removal effort.

“This is a historic event,” said Congressman Sam Farr (D-Calif.). “The removal of San Clemente Dam represents a new beginning for this river where I grew up and where my grandchildren are growing up. All the species that depend on the Carmel River and every member of this community will benefit from the restoration of this precious environment.”

“It is an honor to have been part of the collaborative effort to remove the San Clemente Dam and restore the threatened Carmel River,” said State Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel). “I commend all those that have worked to diligently to make this day possible.”

The 106-foot San Clemente Dam, built in 1921 and removed in the summer of 2015, impacted threatened habitat within the Carmel River, which was declared one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers in 1999. Once vibrant steelhead runs dramatically decreased over time, while lives and property below the dam were threatened by the possible collapse of the seismically unsafe structure.

Before its removal, the reservoir no longer provided significant water storage for the community, having filled more than 95% with 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment and with a remaining water storage capacity of only about 70 acre-feet. The removal project included an innovative engineering approach of rerouting the river around accumulated sediment.

“Our approach avoided the environmental impact of releasing or transporting sediment,” said California American Water President Rob MacLean. “The river reroute makes this dam removal unique from a technical and engineering point of view. I’m tremendously proud of the more than 300 people who worked to construct this project and performed the job safely and on time.”

Bringing the dam removal project to fruition was made possible by a strong partnership between California American Water, the owners and operators of the dam, and the California State Coastal Conservancy and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Additional federal, state and local agencies and elected officials at all levels played key roles in the project’s design, approval, and funding. Forty-nine million dollars of the $83 million construction cost was funded by California American Water. Thirty-four million was contributed by federal, state and private sources, including the State Coastal Conservancy and the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Board, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s estimated that historically, 8,000 adult steelhead made it up the Carmel River each year,” said Barry Thom, National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Deputy Administrator. “Today, the average run is less than six hundred. This project will enable the steelhead to make a viable return as well as the river’s other threatened wildlife.”

Granite Construction was selected through a competitive procurement process to design and build the three-year construction project. Granite will also perform five years of post-construction monitoring and maintenance activities to ensure that the project objectives are met and the restoration project is successful.

“This project is a win for the people and the environment,” said Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter. “This is the largest dam removal project in state history and one of the largest in the U.S. The dam was emblematic of outdated infrastructure projects that didn’t account for ecological impacts. It’s encouraging to see creative solutions realized for complex problems.”

The removal of San Clemente Dam and restoration of the Carmel’s natural flow has many benefits including:

“What we’ve learned in removing San Clemente Dam may be applied elsewhere,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. “Collaborative governance and partnership with the private sector can result in huge gains for the environment, and others should look to this removal project for important lessons.”

The Coastal Conservancy is a state agency that works with the people of California to protect and improve the coast and San Francisco Bay. The conservancy has helped open more than 100 miles of coast and bay shores to the public and preserve more than 300,000 acres of wetlands, wildlife habitat, parks, and farmland.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.