The Largest Dam Removal in California Begins Today

A groundbreaking ceremony started today at the historic tearing down of the antiquated San Clemente Dam.

Elected officials, conservation groups, and community leaders from across the state gathered in Carmel, Calif. today to celebrate the groundbreaking to tear down San Clemente Dam. The event, hosted by California American Water in partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy, NOAA Fisheries, and The Nature Conservancy, included state and federal representatives as well as leadership from various nonprofit organizations that contributed to the dam removal effort.

This project will be the largest dam removal in state history,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-California. “It marks the beginning of a new era for this river, its inhabitance and the community it benefits. The project itself also marks a new way forward in terms of public-private partnerships and working together to accomplish major infrastructure endeavors like this one. This model could be applied to other dams in the state that have exceeded their useful life.”

 “After years of hard work, it is an honor to join the project team and other dignitaries to celebrate the removal of the antiquated San Clemente Dam and restoration of the Carmel River Watershed,” said state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

Since it was built in 1921, the San Clemente Dam has impacted people and nature along the Carmel River.  As a result, once vibrant steelhead runs have dramatically decreased and lives and property below the dam are threatened with the possible collapse of the seismically unsafe structure.

The dam does not provide significant water storage for the community and given the state’s requirement the dam to be seismically safe, is more of a risk than a benefit. The reservoir is over 95% filled with more than 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment and a remaining water storage capacity of only about 70 acre-feet.

The removal project includes an innovative engineering approach of rerouting the river around accumulated sediment. 

“Our approach eliminates the cost and environmental impact of transporting the sediment to a different location, while also avoiding increased flood risk for downstream property owners,” said California American Water President and Chief Operating Officer Walter Lynch. 

Removing the San Clemente Dam and restoring the Carmel’s nature flow will have many benefits including permanently removes the public safety risk posed by the potential collapse of the outdated San Clemente Dam, which now threatens 1,500 homes and other public buildings in the event of a large flood or earthquake, aides in the recovery of threatened South-Central California Coast steelhead by providing unimpaired access to over 25 miles of essential spawning and rearing habitat, and expands public recreation by preserving over 900 acres of coastal watershed lands, resulting in over 5,400 acres of contiguous regional park land for low impact recreation.

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