A Day on the Arroyo Seco

July 23, 2017

I joined Ventana Wilderness Alliance staff and volunteers in marking the one year anniversary of the ignition of the Soberanes Fire by cleaning up trash and dismantling fire rings along the Arroyo Seco River.

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The Arroyo Seco River, with mile after mile of spectacular swimming holes, is a popular place to beat the heat – especially on days, like yesterday, when temperatures in the canyon climb into the triple digits.

While we found, and hauled out, a lot of junk, this area is less trashed than popular locations on the coast. This might seem surprising, considering the large crowds and heavy alcohol consumption, but it’s probably because Salinas Valley locals outnumber tourists.
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Fourth of July in the Hills

June 30, 2017

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What harm could there be in having a little campfire?

Those who live in, or near, California’s fire-prone wildlands tend to get pretty jumpy around the Fourth of July. Many refuse to travel to town for parades and parties; preferring instead to stay at home re-checking water systems and sharpening chain saw blades. Their eyes crawl up to scan the sky for smoke so frequently it becomes a nervous tic. They sniff the air so often that they appear to be suffering from nasal congestion. They fly into a rage at the sight of anyone building campfires or using fireworks.
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Mud Creek Now Mud Point

May 23, 2017

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Punta Barro: Big Sur’s newest geographical feature (photo credit: Rock Knocker)

The Santa Lucia Mountains are very young. At just 5 million years old, they are still in the process of being born – punching upward out of the Pacific faster than the forces of wind, waves, rain, and gravity can wear them down. Their steep, unstable seaward wall, rising to over 5,000 feet at Cone Peak, is constantly eroding, sliding and collapsing into the sea.
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Big Sur River Above Flood Stage for Fifth Time This Year

February 20, 2017

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South Coast oaks in the rain

Heavy pre-dawn rain has pushed the Big Sur River above the 10-foot level that marks its official “flood stage” for the fifth time in less than two months.

As of 9:00 am, the river was at 10.30 feet, which indicates a flow of 3,530 cubic feet per second.

On January 12, the Big Sur River hit 12.34 feet (or 7,650 cfs – more than twice the current flow); the second highest peak recorded since the gauge was installed. The highest was an amazing 10,700 cfs, recorded in January 1978, following the Marble Cone Fire.

This morning’s rain can’t be helping the situation at Pfeiffer Gulch, where a slide has been slowly pulling down the Highway bridge. Interestingly, when the bridge was built in the 1960’s, Caltrans erroneously signed it as the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and, taking their cue from the sign on the collapsing bridge, everyone now seems to be referring to the place as Pfeiffer Canyon.

It’s not the first time this ravine has undergone a name change or, apparently, had bridge trouble. According to Clark’s Monterey County Place Names, the Pfeiffers themselves knew the place as Burnt Bridge Creek.

See the Big Sur River Gauge here.

Noon Update: As of 11:45 the Big Sur River was still rising and had reached 10.85 feet, or 4,370 cfs.

1:00 pm Update: As of 12:45, the Big Sur River had reached 11.07 feet (4,730 cfs). The Carmel River is also rising and is projected to crest more than a foot above its January high water mark. If this happens, there will almost certainly be some flood damage.

2:00 pm Update: The Big Sur River has been level at 11.10 feet (4,790 cfs) for the past half hour. Rain is expected to become more intense this evening, so another rise will be possible tonight.

5:30 pm Update: As of 5:15 pm, the Big Sur River had receded to 10.3 feet (3,530 cfs); which is still above flood stage. Rain is beginning to pick up again over the Big Sur watershed and, if that continues, the river may begin rising again soon.

7:00 pm Update: Hard rain is falling and the Big Sur River is on the rise again. 10.40 feet (3,680 cfs) as of 6:30 pm.

9:00 pm Update: The Big Sur River is rising quickly and has surpassed this afternoon’s peak. As of 8:45 it was at 11.78 feet (5,960 cfs).

10:00 pm Update: Has the Big Sur River found its peak? It made it to around 12.22 feet, just shy of last month’s high water mark of 12.34 feet (the 2nd highest peak ever recorded), but has now (as of 9:45 pm) dropped back to 11.97 feet (6,310 cfs).

11:30 pm Update: The Big Sur River is rising again and, as of 11:15 pm, was back to 12.13 feet (6,570 cfs).

Midnight Update: That rise was short-lived. The Big Sur River is back under 12 feet and falling. Unless unexpectedly heavy rains arrive, it should continue to fall throughout the night.

12:30 pm 2-21-17 Update: The Big Sur River finally went back below flood stage around 11:00 this morning. Its twin peaks last night may have been a bit lower than the January high water mark, but the fact that it remained above flood stage for more than 24 hours is probably some kind of record.

As of 11:45 am, it was at 9.9 feet (2,940 cfs).


Carmel River Reaches Minor Flood Stage

January 11, 2017

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About 10 times this much water is now flowing across the sandbar at the Carmel River mouth.

The Carmel River peaked at 9.1 feet early this morning at Rosie’s Bridge in the Carmel Valley Village. That’s a flow of more than 7,000 cubic feet per second – and the largest flow the Carmel River has seen since 1998. 9 feet at Rosie’s Bridge is considered “minor flood stage” – although some flooding did occur earlier this week with the river below that level.

Runoff from lower tributaries has increased the size of the peak as it has travelled down Carmel Valley and 10,100 cfs are now passing the “Near Carmel” gauge near the river mouth. Further upstream, at Rosie’s Bridge, the river has already dropped to 7.26 feet (4,450 cfs).

Contrary to speculation on social media, the removal of the San Clemente Dam is not causing higher flows in Carmel Valley. The dam had been silted in, and having no impact on river flows, for decades before it was demolished.

What is of concern, are reports that the river has scoured away the carefully constructed “step pools” in its bypass channel at the former dam site and is incising that channel more deeply, leading to bank collapse and the loss of trees in the riparian zone upstream. It will be interesting to see what the new channel looks like, and how accommodating it will be for fish, once the water goes down.

8:30 am Update: The peak flows have now moved out to sea and all parts of the river are quickly receding. Flow at the mouth is now under 9,000 cfs.


Big Sur River Over Flood Stage for the Third Time in a Week

January 10, 2017

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Waterfall in the upper Big Sur drainage: You have to wonder what places like this look like right now…

The Big Sur River has done it again. As of 7:30, it is back over flood stage at 10.31 feet (4,620 cfs). Still a ways to go to match Sunday’s peak of 11.80 feet (6,820 cfs).

7:45 pm Update: Now 10.54 feet (4,950 cfs).

8:15 pm Update: Now 10.82 feet (5,360 cfs).

8:30 pm Update: Now 11.17 feet (5,890 cfs). Flow just increased by 530 cfs in only 15 minutes.

8:45 pm Update: Now 11.30 feet (6,080 cfs).

9:00 pm Update: Now 11.34 feet (6,140 cfs).

9:15 pm Update: Now 11.29 feet (6,070 cfs). Looks like we may have found the peak.

Also at 9:15, the National Weather Service placed a Severe Flash Flood Warning on the Soberanes Fire Burn area, due to heavy rain. They say they expect the Big Sur River to continue to rise.

Radar, in the other hand, indicates that rain over the Big Sur watershed is easing.

9:45 pm Update: Looks like the decline was just a hiccough. The Big Sur River is now at 11.44 feet (6,290 cfs). The NWS was right.

10:15 pm Update: Now 11.73 feet (6,720 cfs) – only 80 cfs below Sunday’s peak.

10:30 pm Update: Now 11.76 (6,760 cfs) – only 40 cfs below Sunday’s peak.

11:00 pm Update: The Big Sur River is now at 12.01 feet (7,150 cfs) – the second highest level ever measured on this stream. The greatest was 14,30 feet (10,700 cfs), in 1978. That record won’t likely be challenged tonight.

11:15 pm Update: Now 12.13 feet (7,330 cfs).

11:30 pm Update: Now 12.34 feet (7,650 cfs) – another quick rise.

11:45 pm Update: Now 12.25 feet (7,510 cfs). Another hiccough, or has the peak finally passed?

Midnight Update: Now 12.20 feet (7,430 cfs). Looks like the peak has really passed this time.

The main concern now is how high the Carmel River will go. It is still rising at the Los Padres Dam and is already higher there than it got on Sunday.

7:00 am Update: It looks like the Carmel River peaked at around 9.1 feet (just over flood stage) at Rosie’s Bridge in the early morning hours. That’s a bit over 7,000 cfs. The peak is now near the river mouth, where it has swollen to over 10,000 cfs – thanks to runoff from Garzas Creek and other lower tributaries.

 


Big Sur River Back Above Flood Stage

January 8, 2017

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Big Sur Rain

Shortly before 3:00 pm this afternoon, the Big Sur River pushed its gauge above the 10 foot level that marks the official flood stage. The gauge was at 10.04 feet by 3:00, or 4,250 cubic feet per second. The river reached a peak flow of 4,950 cfs last Wednesday (10.54 feet).

Heavy rain is still falling over the Big Sur watershed at this time, but should begin decreasing soon as the storm moves off to the south. The watershed is small, so the river won’t keep rising for long, once the rain relents. Serious flooding is unlikely to occur until the gauge height exceeds 11 feet.

3:30 pm Update: River now at 5,250 cfs (Gauge height 10.75). That’s an increase of 1,000 cfs in half an hour.

4:00 pm Update: River now at 6,020 cfs (11.26 feet). Still rising quickly, though not as quickly. This is the largest flow the Big Sur River has seen since 6,590 cfs was recorded in February, 1998. Radar suggests heavy rain is still falling in the Big Sur watershed.

4:45 pm Update: River now at 6,420 cfs (11.53 feet). Rain may be easing some.

5:00 pm Update: Latest reading is 6,620 cfs (11.66 feet). This exceeds the 1998 flow and is the third highest flow ever recorded on the Big Sur River (after 1978 and 1995).

5:15 pm Update: Now the second largest flow ever recorded on the Big Sur River at 6,700 cfs (11.72 feet). With rain beginning to recede, there’s not much chance of it matching the 1978 flow of 10,700 cfs, I’m glad to say. Flows have been recorded since 1950.

5:30 pm Update: Still inching upward. Now 6,790 cfs (11.78 feet).

5:45 pm Update: 6,820 cfs (11.80 feet). How high will it go?

6:00 pm Update: Still 6,820 cfs at 6:00 pm. Have we finally found the peak?

6:15 pm Update: Yes! The river is now receding. 6,790 cfs (11.78 feet) at 6:15.