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Feds also want Los Padres Dam removed

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: November 9, 2012

WHILE THE removal of the San Clemente Dam has been postponed over concerns about how the project’s construction traffic will affect nearby residential communities, the National Marine Fisheries Service is stepping up efforts to tear down Los Padres Dam, too.

NMFS is seeking public comment on a new “recovery plan” for steelhead trout that live along what it calls the “South-Central California Coast.” It held a little noticed public hearing on the issue in Monterey Oct. 30.

Soliciting public comment is one step toward adopting the plan. But it’s unclear how much weight the plan will carry. Representatives from NMFS and Congressman Sam Farr’s office were unavailable this week to talk about it.

But Dave Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, said the plan is something local residents should pay attention to.

“You won’t find any timelines or cost estimates in the plan,” Stoldt said. “But once [the idea of removing Los Padres Dam] gets into a document as a solution, it becomes more real.”

Stoldt suggested the removal of the dam could create more problems than it solves.

“Without a regulated flow in the river, significant stretches could dry up,” he continued. “That’s not necessarily a healthy situation from a fisheries standpoint.”

And if the river dries up, the water rights of property owners who live alongside it could be jeopardized, he said.

Jeanne Byrne, a MPWMD board member, also encouraged local residents to learn more about the plan to tear down Los Padres Dam.

“People should be aware that this is on the radar,” Byrne said. “It forebodes a problem down the road.”

Built in 1948, Los Padres Dam is located about 25 miles upstream from the Carmel River’s outlet to the ocean. The dam was built to store 3,030 acre-feet of water, but by 2008, silt had reduced its storage capacity to 1,775 acre-feet.

Released in September, the steelhead trout recovery plan suggests removing the San Clemente and Los Padres dams to allow steelhead “natural” rates of migration to upstream spawning and rearing habitats, and passage of young trout downstream to the Carmel River Lagoon and ocean.

Despite the fact that the species is one of the most common in the world, the numbers of steelhead trout in the Carmel River have declined significantly, resulting in NMFS listing what it calls the “distinct population segment” and “biogeographic population group” of the fish that lives along the Central California coast as threatened in 1997.

It is unknown how much it would cost to tear down the dam, although the removal of the considerably smaller San Clemente Dam is estimated to be $83 million — and that number could climb as the project encounters delays.
Congressman Farr has been an outspoken supporter of the plan to remove the San Clemente Dam.