The slowly rising lagoon reached the top of the bar shortly before sunrise this morning.
In the not-so-distant past, County crews would wait until the last moment and then bulldoze a lagoon-draining cut through the center of the sandbar to prevent the homes built on the lagoon-bottom from flooding. Rapid draining is not a good thing, as it can sweep immature steelhead out to sea before they are ready to survive in salt water. This photo is from 2009. In the winter of 2009/2010, county crews breached the sandbar and drained the lagoon at least five times.
Fortunately, the lagoon is being managed a bit more thoughtfully now. Yesterday morning dozers lowered the south end of the bar just enough to ensure the river would breach it before homes began to flood. There are rock outcroppings here which can help to slow the draining by interfering with the river’s ability to rapidly deepen its channel. When this photo was taken, 15 or 20 minutes after the river began to spill, the rocks were doing their job quite well.
But the river soon moved itself north, away from the rocks, and the draining became much more rapid.
This was still a much slower draining than used to occur in the days of the center cut.
Although flow in the Carmel River peaked at nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Village early yesterday, the rate of inflow to the lagoon never exceeded 700 cfs. The rest, plus all the additional water provided by Garzas Creek and other downstream tributaries, sank into the riverbed to replenish the parched Carmel Valley Aquifer. With inflow to the lagoon now at around 100 cfs, and falling rapidly, outflow from the lagoon will soon become too small to prevent waves from rebuilding the bar. Only continuing rain can keep the river mouth open.
The 2014/2015 water year is off to a great start, but we can’t help remembering that only two years ago, in November/December of 2012, we were off to an even wetter start, with the Big Sur River actually reaching flood stage on December 2. And then rain all but disappeared for the entire 2013 calendar year. We can only hope things turn out differently this time.