Carmel Lagoon Breached in Annual “Emergency” Ritual


The Carmel River Lagoon drains into the ocean through the newly bulldozed cut

Every year when the Carmel River begins to flow it backs up behind the sandbar at the beach and threatens to flood homes built on the floor of the lagoon. And every year the County shows up with bulldozers and breaches the sandbar to protect the homes. The breaching empties the lagoon, saves the homes, and washes out to sea juvenile steelhead not yet prepared to survive in salt water.

This annual ritual takes place without benefit of environmental review because the filling of the lagoon each year is treated as an unforeseeable “emergency,” and actions taken on an emergency basis are, of course, exempt under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Were environmental review to take place, the County would doubtless be required to manage the lagoon so as to minimize damage to the steelhead, as well as keeping water out of the homes. As a practical matter this would probably mean having a serious protocol in place for breaching the sandbar at an oblique angle, or in some other controlled fashion, designed to prevent the complete emptying of the lagoon.

In the absence of such a requirement, and in an effort to forestall litigation on the question of whether an annual practice can genuinely be considered an emergency, the County has promised to do their best to breach the lagoon in ways that will prevent complete draining, but year after year, it doesn’t quite work out that way. This year has proved to be no exception.

Yesterday’s storm, which had been predicted for at least a week, wasn’t exactly a surprise and the stream gauges have been making clear since yesterday afternoon that a lot of water was on its way to the lagoon. Yet, the County didn’t begin work to breach the lagoon until this morning, when water was practically at people’s doors.

And with this unforeseen flooding so imminent, they decided, there just wasn’t time to do anything other than breach the center of the bar and drain the lagoon completely.


Xasáuan Today World Headquarters: Buried in branches, but otherwise intact following Tuesday’s storm

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