Third Carmel River Lagoon “Emergency” Since October

Some gentle rain, a high tide, and it’s another “emergency” for the homes on the bottom of the Carmel River Lagoon – the third since October.

Breaching the sandbar to reduce water levels in the Lagoon can easily wash young steelhead (a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act) out to sea before they’re mature enough to survive in salt water. Yet the county continues to evade environmental review of their breaching program by treating each upward fluctuation in water as an unforeseen emergency.

Were they to acknowledge the obvious – that breaching the Lagoon is something they do on a regular basis – CEQA would apply and they would need to seriously address the impacts of the Lagoon draining, perhaps even moving forward with the long-discussed flood barrier.

Instead, the county has simply promised to do their best to breach the Lagoon at an oblique angle at it’s southern end. A strategy that makes a complete draining of the Lagoon less likely.

But when the Lagoon began rising on October 14th, the county decided they didn’t have the time and breached the center of the sandbar. The result was a rapid draining of the Lagoon that likely killed many fish.

After waves rebuilt the bar, the water rose again, on November 7th, due to high surf. The dozers battled the ocean most of the day, attempting to create another center cut, but with waves replacing sand about as fast as the two dozers could remove it, only a very small amount of water was drained from the Lagoon.

Third time’s the charm! This morning the dozer operators finally managed to open the lagoon with a cut to the south – preventing flooding, yet avoiding draining the lagoon completely.

But digging in the sand with dozers is apparently too much fun to just leave it at that. With the Lagoon already thoroughly breached through the southern cut, the dozers started digging out a center cut. A center cut might be needed, they explained, because a “big slug of water is on its way down the river.”

That “big slug of water” would, of course, be the approximately 300cfs peak flow generated by yesterday’s rain. An amount which, for the record, is only about 6% of the 5,000cfs Carmel River peak flow generated by the October storm. Somehow we’re having difficulty imagining how that 300cfs is going to have difficulty passing out of the Lagoon through the southern cut – especially since water has a way of enlarging a channel cut through sand to whatever size is necessary.

But the public works guys are having their fun – and since they don’t seem to be planning to open their center cut until the massive 300cfs flood makes that necessary, it appears that all is well.

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