Salinas River

Rain falls into the Salinas River at Davis Road just outside of Salinas.

Another $3.4 million in grant funds are headed to Monterey County for clearing another 100 acres of invasive arundo from the banks of the Salinas River, advancing a project that just a few years ago looked like it might never get done.

Arundo is a tall perennial grass that resembles bamboo, and it's persistent: The Resource Conservation District of Monterey County will use its latest grant to treat about 100 acres over five years. 

The first go-round is with a mower, followed by subsequent annual herbicide treatments. 

"It just comes back and comes back, so this is a way we whittle it all down," says Paul Robins, executive director of the RCD.

The Salinas River had the second-worst infestation of arundo in California before RCD, along with private landowners, started aggressively going after it last year. (RCD started by treating about 100 acres near Greenfield, and private landowners removed about 50 acres near Chualar; to help match the new grant, private landowners have pledged to remove another 58 acres.)

This grant will bring the total cleared acreage to about 300.

It might not sound like a significant dent in the 1,400 acres of arundo crowding the riverbanks, but Robins sees the end in sight and projects the entire length of the river could be in progress for invasive species removal within a decade. 

"It's much faster than I'd hoped originally," he says. 

That's thanks in part to the $3.4 million grant, awarded Feb. 18 by the California Wildlife Conservation Board, which selected the Salinas River project as one of 24 projects to receive Prop. 1 funding, out of an original 81 applications. 

It's also because private landowners are now permitted to remove arundo (still on their own dime), thanks to a contentious Salinas River channel maintenance program that lays out environmental guidelines for how to do work along the riverbanks. 

The channel maintenance program lays out the guidelines for removing vegetation from a river that's become overgrown in some sections, creating a chokepoints that could pose flood risk in heavy rains. 

An original proposal was shot down by environmentalists for embracing a clear-cutting approach, and also by farmers for not doing enough to minimize flood risk to their adjacent fields. The final program is a compromise, guided by The Nature Conservancy and sophisticated modeling that allows channel clearing to focus on real, rather than perceived, chokepoints. 

Robins says RCD's goal of clearing arundo—which has dual benefits of improving the stream flow and also biodiversity—can move faster now that private landowners have permission to move forward on their own.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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