Conservation | TROUT Magazine

New land deal will benefit Carmel River steelhead

Fishing the Carmel River lagoon during steelhead season.

In his 1945 novel Cannery Row, John Steinbeck called the Carmel River, on California’s central coast, “a lovely little river… [with] pools where trout live … a place for fishermen to wander in.”

In those days the Carmel was a well-known fishery and hosted a robust run of wild steelhead. In the years since, the Carmel has suffered mightily from excessive water withdrawals, drought, and other impacts—and its winter steelhead run has been reduced to a few hundred adult fish, in a “good” year.

Juvenile steelhead, Carmel River.

The federal recovery plan for the South-Central Coastal Distinct Population Segment of steelhead highlights the still-intact habitat and high restoration potential of the Carmel River for steelhead. Trout Unlimited has worked since 2006 to advance steelhead recovery in this priority watershed.

Over the past year, this work has helped produce two major outcomes that will help Carmel River steelhead.

First, a long campaign to remove the lower of two dams on the Carmel—the century-old San Clemente Dam, at risk of catastrophic failure in a major earthquake—came to fruition as the San Clemente Dam Removal and River Re-route project was completed in the fall of 2015.

This project re-opened some 25 miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat to steelhead. This winter, scientists observed dozens of steelhead redds in the new habitat.

Monterey Peninsula Water Management District rescuing and relocating young steelhead as the lower Carmel River dries back in early summer.

Now, an opportunistic partnership involving the Trust for Public Land, Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District, Santa Lucia Conservancy and the Steinbeck Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited has led to a remarkable land deal which will convert 140 acres of a golf course to park land and re-dedicate some 300 acre-feet of water back to the lower river.

The conservation partners announced the deal yesterday after a lengthy series of complicated negotiations with multiple landowners and the local water utility, California American Water Company. The Monterey Herald and the Monterey Weekly covered the story.

The transaction involves three land parcels and Rancho Canada golf course, whose lease is set to expire in 2017. The deal calls for water used by the golf course for irrigation to be dedicated in the future to the river.

Tim Frahm, TU Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator, pointed out that, in 1999, American Rivers ranked the Carmel River as one of America’s most threatened rivers. Today, Frahm said, “the outline of a deal is in place that—combined with the recent San Clemente Dam Removal Project—offers real hope of making the Carmel one of the nation’s most restored waters and recovering its legendary run of wild steelhead trout.”

Chris Wood, TU’s president and CEO, recently said, “Collaborative stewardship of our cold water resources may not be sexy, but it works.” This principle has proven true—twice—on one of Steinbeck’s favorite rivers.

Read the conservation partners’ press release on the Rancho Canada deal here.

This post was first published on the TU blog in April of 2016.