Meeting Date:

May 24, 2016





Dave Stoldt,




General Manager





Prepared By:

Larry Hampson




SUMMARY:   Monterey County adopted a General Plan Update on October 26, 2010 that includes a standard of review requiring proof of a long-term sustainable water supply when a discretionary permit is required.  The policy in Chapter 5, Public Service Element (Exhibit 2-A), PS-3.1, exempts the first single family dwelling on an existing lot of record; however, the standard does apply to commercial and residential projects such as the proposed Rancho Cañada Village and the Carmel Rio Road Subdivision project, which both rely on the Carmel River as their water supply.  There are several factors to take into account in making a determination of a long-term water supply.  Two of the key factors involved in determining whether the Carmel Valley Alluvial Aquifer (CVAA) can be considered a long-term sustainable water supply include the following from Policy PS-3.2:


“e. Cumulative impacts of existing and projected future demand for water

from the source, and the ability to reverse trends contributing to an

overdraft condition or otherwise affecting supply; and

f. Effects of additional extraction or diversion of water on the environment

including on instream flows necessary to support riparian vegetation,

wetlands, fish or other aquatic life, and the migration potential for

steelhead, for the purpose of minimizing impacts on the environment and

to those resources and species.”


The MPWMD policy on water use from the CVAA adopted by the Board of Directors on August 18, 2006 (Exhibit 2-B) ensures that a discretionary permit for well water use from the CVAA does not result in a long-term increase in production.  However, the policy does not assure that impacts from diversion are reduced over the long-term, including impacts to streamside resources, impacts on steelhead migration, or the availability of flow to support aquatic species during dry periods. 


RECOMMENDATION: The Committee should review the two policies, discuss the inconsistencies between the two, consider current Carmel River Basin conditions, and provide direction to staff.




Monterey County General Plan

Policy Goal PS-3 (beginning on p. PS-8 in Exhibit 2-A) introduces several criteria and standards by which to prove that new development has a long-term sustainable water supply.  Recently, staff at the Monterey County Planning Department and the Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) contacted MPWMD staff to discuss these General Plan requirements as they apply to future discretionary permits that may rely on the Carmel River for their water supply.  These include two current proposed developments – the Rancho Cañada Village project and the Carmel Rio Road Subdivision project.  Both projects rely on existing riparian rights in the CVAA for their water supply as there is no public supply available for these projects.


A key factor in making a determination of a long-term water supply for a discretionary permit is whether there are data to support the determination.  MCWRA and Monterey County staff have both pointed out that use of Carmel River water is subject to a Cease-and-Desist Order from the State Water Resources Control Board and that the CVAA is seasonally overdrafted.  Thus, the current condition of the basin strongly suggests that depending on the Carmel River as a long-term sustainable water supply would not meet the requirements of the Monterey County General Plan for discretionary permits.


Another factor in making a determination that the Carmel River may not meet the General Plan requirement for a long-term sustainable water supply is that there is no document that describes how the Carmel River is either a sustainable water supply or what steps will be taken to make it a sustainable supply.


MPWMD staff notes that currently, there are several documents that characterize the watershed and propose actions to enhance the resources of the river.  There are also local, State, and Federal requirements limiting use of Carmel River resources.  But, there is no formal plan that either MPWMD or Monterey County has adopted that uses the factors described in PS-3.2 and PS-3.3 and describes goals, policies, or requirements for future projects that would result in the Carmel River being determined to be a long-term sustainable supply.


District Policy on Carmel Valley Alluvial Aquifer Well Use

The District policy concerning alluvial wells was developed in 2006 as a result of objections from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (previously, the California Department of Fish and Game) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about MPWMD approving use of any quantity of additional extractions from the alluvial aquifer.  Here is a relevant section of the Background information from the October 16, 2006 MPWMD Board packet, Item 12 concerning the District’s alluvial well policy:


“The [CDFG and NMFS] agency representatives stated that an EIR with overriding considerations should be prepared for [Water Distribution System Permit] applications that result in increased water use, and a Negative Declaration would be appropriate for applications that result in no greater use than documented historical use.”


District Counsel and the Board of Directors focused on compliance with CEQA concerning new or amended permits for well water use.  In addition, use of a 10-year production record (or other demonstrated record, as appropriate) is required when setting a production limit for a Water Distribution System (WDS) permit or amendment for wells in the alluvial aquifer.  This follows the protocol used by the SWRCB in Order 95-10 to determine Cal-Am’s non-drought average production from the Carmel River[1].   So, for example, for a conversion of land use that includes new connections to an existing WDS system (e.g., a previously permitted well on the property), as long as the production limit does not exceed the 10-year average, the District would issue a WDS permit amendment to allow new connections for the change in use.  It should be noted that no new wells or expansion of facilities that would result in an increase in production from the CVAA can currently be permitted – whether on a single lot or for a subdivision or for an intensification of use – unless impacts can be fully offset.


The District’s current policy ensures that no new impacts would occur from a discretionary permit; however, the policy does not significantly reduce or reverse ongoing impacts to aquatic species from diversions based on existing water rights.  It is noted that NMFS issued a paper in 2002 with recommendations of minimum instream flows to protect steelhead had a stated intent to “…provide information for developing long-term solutions for resolving ongoing impacts to steelhead and water supply needs for the Carmel River Valley.”  The paper also recognized that “…such [flow] conditions [from June 1 through November 30] may be impractical given historic authorized diversion practices and the perfection of water rights by many parties in Carmel Valley.” [2]  The District did not choose to include the instream flow recommendation from NMFS that SWRCB subsequently deemed to be protective of public trust resources in issuing appropriative water rights permits for Carmel River diversions.


Carmel River Flows and Well Production

Despite releases from storage at Los Padres Reservoir that augment natural flow, current well production along the Carmel River results in a seasonal overdraft almost every year during the dry period and portions of the lower 14 miles of the Carmel River go dry as a result.    Currently about 40% of the total production (Cal-Am and non-Cal-Am) is under a Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) from the State Water Resources Control Board, which is likely to curtail the unauthorized diversions by the end of 2021.  The remaining diversions are taken under a combination of riparian, pre-1914, and appropriative rights.  Table 1 below summarizes existing Carmel River runoff, CVAA production for Water Years 2014 and 2105 (October 1 through September 30), and proposed future diversions in the dry season.


Table 1


Comparison of Carmel River Annual Runoff with Carmel Valley Alluvial Aquifer Production


Water Year

Annual Flow at Don Juan Bridge in Garland Park (AF)

Cal-Am production (AF)

Non-Cal-Am production (AF)

Total production (AF)











Annual Average Runoff (WY1992-2015)





Annual Median Runoff





Dry Season Median Runoff





Dry Season Average Runoff





Estimated current dry season diversions





Estimated future dry season diversions






1. Flow at Don Juan Bridge based on WY1992 to WY2015.

2. Estimated future production based on Cal-Am testimony for the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project and an estimated non-Cal-Am production of 2,200 AFY with 60% occurring in the dry season (June 1 through November 30).


Based on existing knowledge of the effects of Carmel River diversions on the resources of the Carmel River, it is clear that Carmel River diversions during certain periods can affect instream flows for winter steelhead migration and in dry periods reduce the availability and/or quality of aquatic habitat.  Table 1 shows that WY2014 was critically dry and was among the lowest years for runoff on record.  As can be seen, production in WY2014 was nearly double the runoff and in WY2015, production was more than 40% of the annual runoff.  MPWMD estimates that approximately 60% of the water produced from the CVAA occurs in the dry period (June 1 through November 30).  Well production in the CVAA results in annual dewatering of up to about nine miles of the Carmel River during dry periods.  For the period 1987 through 2015, there were two years when the river flowed continuously throughout the water year to the lagoon (1998 and 2011).  Previous to that, the river likely flowed throughout the 1983 water year (largest annual flow on record).


Table 1 shows what has been known for several decades – that on average annual flow greatly exceeds annual demand for municipal supply.  Thus, although the aquifer is seasonally dewatered, in most years the aquifer is fully recharged and the river flows to the ocean.  However, the table also clearly shows the seasonality of flow and the limited availability of river flow in the dry season. 


Future Operations in the Carmel Valley Alluvial Aquifer

A large step toward long-term sustainability will be taken when Cal-Am completely cease its unauthorized diversions.  However, this is not likely to occur until about 2021.  At that time, the total production from the CVAA is likely to drop into a range of about 5,500 AFY to 6,000 AFY.  Because Cal-Am proposes to take much of its authorized diversions during the winter, total production by Cal-Am and non-Cal-Am wells in the dry season is likely to be about one-third of the future annual production total or about 1,870 AF to 2,160 AF; however, even this lowered production will result in a substantial portion of dry season flows being diverted downstream of Don Juan Bridge (River Mile 10.8).  It should be noted that historical dry season flows at Don Juan Bridge include the effect of seasonal releases from storage at Los Padres Reservoir.


In a near-term step toward sustainability, recently Cal-Am announced a funding agreement with a group that will buy a portion of the Rancho Cañada golf course.  The land would be converted into open space and water rights associated with the land would be permanently dedicated for instream beneficial uses.


In addition, the proposed Pure Water Monterey project would provide 3,500 AFY in 2018 for injection in the Seaside Groundwater Basin and subsequent recovery for use in the Cal-Am main system.  This would offset Carmel River diversions on a one-for-one basis and make a significant difference in the number of miles of river that are dewatered annually.

Thresholds for Sustainability

Beginning with water rights Permit 20808-A issued to MPWMD and Cal-Am on November 30, 2007, the SWRCB began including a modified version of the NMFS’ instream flow recommendations as a permit condition to meet in order to protect public trust resources.  The requirements have been simplified and the most current Table of instream flows is attached as Exhibit 2-C.  These requirements effectively prevent reliance on the Carmel River as an uninterruptible water source for new water rights permits issued by SWRCB.  There are some years when no excess flows would be available for diversion during the winter and, if the allowed season of diversion is all year, there are periods almost every year when no excess flows would be available for diversions during the dry period (i.e., June 1 through November 30).


Projects such as Rancho Cañada Village present a potential win-win situation for the Carmel River and the property owner.  The proposed project would permanently retire a portion of the existing water use, thus benefitting flow in the river and its streamside resources.  In return, the property owner would receive the right to change the land use from an existing golf course to a mix of commercial and residential use.  The project would help to “…reverse trends contributing to an overdraft condition.”  However, it is clear that during dry periods, water use associated with the project is likely to reduce the aquifer level and flow in the river.  A key concern would be whether this production could be offset or minimized to the extent that it does not present an impediment to the long-term sustainability of the Carmel River environment.


A threshold of “no impact” to the environment for water use associated with a discretionary permit could result in no change to land use and missed opportunities to reverse current trends in water use.  MPWMD and Monterey County should work toward a solution that recognizes that under certain conditions water use from the Carmel River for discretionary permits may have some negative impacts.  Expressing a plan to minimize the impact and mitigate for adverse consequences would represent a step in the direction of long-term sustainability.



2-A      Chapter 5 Public Service Element from the 2010 Monterey County General Plan Update

2-B      MPWMD Protocol for wells in the Carmel Valley Alluvial Aquifer

2-C      Example table of instream flow requirements included in SWRCB permits




[1] See p. 6, footnote 1 in SWRCB Order 95-10.

[2] See p. 25, “Instream Flow needs for Steelhead in the Carmel River, Bypass flow recommendations for water supply projects using Carmel River waters,” National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Region, June 3, 2002.