Enviros call for more scrutiny of county’s steelhead-blocking project.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
W hile Monterey County officials this week touted the oft-delayed opening of the Salinas River rubber dam, another water controversy is percolating downstream.
On April 26 the county Water Resources Agency board is scheduled to adopt a mitigated negative declaration for the so-called Salinas River Lagoon Fisheries Enhancement Project, which would install fish screens and a sea wall to keep threatened steelhead out of a channel near where the river meets the ocean. The declaration would mean that no further study of eco-effects is needed, but watchdogs are calling for a full environmental impact report.
“The overall proposal would be damaging to and inconsistent with the natural environment,” writes attorney Molly Erickson, representing property owners Henry and Barbara Bellone and The Open Monterey Project. “The current environment is fundamentally pristine except for the box culvert installed by the County. The construction proposed by this project would forever change the lagoon’s natural environment.”
Monterey Coastkeeper is also calling for a full EIR, and complains the project will cause the loss of 5 miles of essential steelhead habitat. County officials say a full-fledged environmental document isn’t needed, Old Salinas River Channel is unsuitable fish habitat, and the request to keep fish out came from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The project, which is estimated to cost about $2 million but is unfunded, is a requirement of the Salinas Valley Water Project. On Thursday, April 22, the county held a ribbon-cutting for one SVWP component, a rubber dam that will divert about 7,000 acre-feet of river water, mix it with recycled water and pump it into Castroville-area artichoke fields between April 1 and Oct. 31.
Project Engineer Chris Moss says the river water will replace well water and help ease saltwater intrusion. But the SVWP, which also includes increasing reservoir capacity at Nacimiento Dam, has been fraught with lawsuits and cost overruns.
Skeptics complain the project does little to benefit North County residents whose wells have dried up, even though they pay the assessments from the 2003 bond measure, which partly funded SVWP. “We’ve been paying for the rubber dam. We’ve been paying for [the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project],” says Prunedale resident Doug Kasunich. “The county is going to say we are entitled to some of that water. That’s going to be another big ball of wax.”
North County activist Julie Engell says Granite Ridge residents won’t benefit until there is a distribution system: “The fact of the matter is, water doesn’t flow uphill.”