Restore the Carmel River, not an Artificial Steelhead Rearing Facility!


Despite Dam Removal, Public Funding Requested for Artificial Fish Rearing Facility on the Carmel River

Last week the Native Fish Society and partners including Patagonia, Stoecker Ecological, Dr. Jack Stanford, and Wild Fish Conservancy expressed our concern regarding the California Coastal Conservancy's $1.8 million dollar funding proposal to renovate an artificial steelhead rearing facility on California's Carmel River. The river's wild steelhead are a protected species under the Federal Endangered Species Act and recently benefitted from the removal of the San Clemente Dam - the largest dam removal in California state history.

November 29, 2017

To: Governing Board, California Coastal Conservancy

From: Yvon Chouinard, Owner, Patagonia Inc.

Dr. Jack Stanford, Fisheries Biologist

Mark Sherwood, Executive Director, Native Fish Society

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director, Wild Fish Conservancy

Matt Stoecker, Principle Biologist, Stoecker Ecological

Re: Project No. 13-027-02. Consideration of authorization to disburse up to $1,800,000 of Carmel River Settlement Funds to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to construct improvements to the Sleepy Hollow Steelhead Rearing Facility.

Chair Bosco and the Coastal Conservancy Board,

For reasons described below, we respectfully request the Coastal Conservancy Board (Conservancy) 1) deny the staff recommendation for the authorization of any of the Carmel River Settlement Funds to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District for modification of the Sleepy Hollow Steelhead Rearing Facility (SHSRF) on the Carmel River (Project No. 13-027-02), 2) deny adoption of staff findings #1-3, 3) deny adoption of Addendum No. 2 to the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration, 4) direct staff to request from relevant parties that the project undergo a formal Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate and adequately assess the extensive steelhead, ecological, and climate change inaccuracies and omissions presented in project documents.

Due to the proposed use of federally acquired settlement funds for public trust resources, proposed public allocation of the funding by the Conservancy, and the project nexus with federally listed steelhead trout in the Carmel River, it is essential that an Environmental Impact Statement by prepared to adequately evaluate this project and it’s ability to satisfy the intended goals and criteria of the ESA, steelhead Recovery Plans, and climate change impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act.

We have a keen interest in this project because our collective organizations and members have been deeply involved in past and ongoing wild steelhead and watershed restoration projects in California, Oregon and Washington. If authorized, this investment in unsustainable, artificial fisheries enhancement sets a terrible precedent in applying limited dollars towards a project that does not benefit real fish recovery and ecosystem restoration solutions. The Coastal Conservancy does not, and should not, have a mandate or authorization to fund artificial fish production, rearing, or transportation of listed species. These practices do not meet the definition of “recovery” or “delisting” of “self-sustaining” fish populations within the Endangered Species Act and other federal and state recovery planning documents. Funding such unsustainable and ineffectual mitigation projects also sets a terrible precedent by letting public and private utilities off the hook for activities (such as dewatering a river) detrimental to the public trust and steelhead recovery.

This project also undermines the success and fish recovery effectiveness of the San Clemente Dam removal effort, which was significantly supported by the Coastal Conservancy. That project has the intended goals of restoring ecosystem function and letting wild steelhead recover themselves, along with addressing the other root causes of their decline. Investment in this artificial rearing facility is counter to the intended goals of removing San Clemente Dam, and we have serious concerns about the efficacy of the facility and the long-term, cumulative impacts on fish recovery, watershed health, climate change, and Conservancy planning and funding direction. Furthermore, the effects of the facility, impact on steelhead, and climate change implications have been largely ignored or presented inaccurately within the staff letter and supporting documents. Some of these omissions, inaccuracies, inconsistencies with Conservancy funding criteria, inconsistencies with federal and local plans, and concerns about conflicts of interest are outline in the attachment following this letter.

Investment in this project by the Conservancy does not address the root causes of the described dewatering problem on the Carmel River. In fact, the project likely incentivizes municipal and private water utilities to not solve the water problem while utilizing public funds and, amazingly in this case, settlement money for “alleged Endangered Species Act violations” related to the water withdrawals. Consequently, public investment in this facility can discourage resolution for real long-term recovery and management actions to benefit threatened steelhead and watershed health. Additionally, the investment of funds and new construction within the river channel will further complicate and constrain currently discussed alternatives for the Los Padres Dam upstream.

The Conservancy is a leader in the preservation, protection, and restoration of the California coast and watersheds that feed it. We are proud to have worked with the Conservancy many times before and look forward to continuing this relationship in the future. However, as a leader in protecting California’s natural lands and wildlife the Conservancy must invest in sustainable solutions and real recovery efforts. This project proposal does not meet the Conservancy’s mission, funding criteria, planning documents or benefit the self-sustaining recovery of the federally threatened steelhead population. Furthermore, this project takes what limited money is available away from critical restoration, water conservation, less harmful water infrastructure, fish passage, and monitoring needs on the Carmel River.

We ask that the Conservancy deny the staff recommendations for this project as noted above, request that a formal Environmental Impact Statement be prepared, and that staff recognize and reaffirm that they do not have the mandate or authorization to support or fund artificial fisheries enhancement projects now or in the future.


Dr. Jack Stanford, Fisheries Biologist

Yvon Chouinard |Hans Cole

Owner | Environmental Campaign and Advocacy Director, Patagonia

Matt Stoecker

Biologist, Stoecker Ecological

Mark Sherwood, Director

Native Fish Society

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director

Wild Fish Conservancy

Concerns with Coastal Conservancy staff letter & Sleepy Hollow Steelhead Rearing Facility proposal

Project fails to meet CC Coastal Trust Fund criteria:

The CC staff letter states that Carmel River Settlement Account of the Conservancy’s Coastal Trust Fund are “reserved for projects that aid in the recovery of South-Central California Coast (SCCC) steelhead”. Recovery, as defined within the ESA, and within NOAA and CDFW’s own steelhead recovery documents, is defined as benefitting and achieving “wild, self-sustaining” populations. The project’s trapping operation and artificial rearing facility fail to meet the definition of a “recovery” project and therefore does not qualify for CC Coastal Trust Funds.

The CC staff letter states: “The settlement funds can only be used to improve habitat conditions for, and production of, South-Central California Coast (SCCC) steelhead, or otherwise aid in the recovery of SCCC steelhead in the Carmel River watershed.” The project does not carry out or accomplish any of these three criteria.

The CC staff letter states: “As Section 31220(c) requires, the proposed project is consistent with local and state watershed plans. This is discussed in detail below under “Consistency With Local Watershed Management Plan/State Water Quality Control Plan.” Section 31220(c) also requires that projects include a monitoring and evaluation component. MPWMD has developed a monitoring and assessment plan for the facilities that will evaluate the effectiveness of the intake structure, as well as erosion control and revegetation measures required to mitigate project impacts.” The project is not consistent with ESA, NOAA and CDFW recovery documents and plans that require and/or prioritize projects that benefit “self-sustaining” and “self-regulating” populations. No monitoring of altered rearing facility water quality and discharge is mentioned. The impact on captured and in-river steelhead resulting from the trapping and trucking effort, competition and potential facility-born disease following release of fish, and post rearing facility mortality are not adequately described or assessed.

The project is inconsistent with the CC’s 2013 Strategic Plan and project selection criteria:

The CC letter states that “Consistent with Goal 5, Objective D of the Conservancy’s 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, the proposed project will enhance the Carmel River watershed, a coastal watershed, by helping ensure the survival of the river’s steelhead run.” This is an inaccurate and misleading statement. The project does not enhance the watershed, but rather describes multiple components that degrade watershed habitat and flows through development within the river channel and on the banks, diversion and alteration of river flows and quality, “waste discharge” onto the unprotected river bank, and associated operational impacts on air quality, fossil fuel use in transporting fish, noise, and elimination of riparian vegetation. By definition, within ESA, NOAA, and CDFW wildlife recovery documents, artificial rearing of steelhead is not a solution to “ensure the survival of the river’s steelhead run.” As defined, the project does not include any elements that result in self-sustaining steelhead survival. Again, the project does not meet CC goals and objectives.

Despite CC staff letter statements, the project does not meet CC “required criteria” for project selection as outlined in the CC staff letter. Pg. 6 “The project implements the California Water Action Plan (California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2014), which includes goal number 4: protect and restore important ecosystems by facilitating the recovery of SCCC steelhead.” Again, the artificial rearing project does not result in ecosystem “restoration” and using ESA, NOAA, and CDFW “recovery” and “delisting” definitions does not facilitate “self-sustaining” steelhead “recovery”.

Artificial rearing does not support California Department of Fish and Wildlife goals for “wild” and “self-sustaining” populations. This concept is underlined in the conclusion of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Steelhead Restoration and Management Plan where technological solutions are discussed, stating “…the real danger with this philosophy is that it can divert attention, and forestall real, long-term solutions.” - California Department of Fish and Game. 1996. Steelhead restoration and management plan. California Resources Agency

Guidance documents for implementation of the ESA make it clear that delisting (the official goal of recovery actions) requires adequate wild and self-sustaining populations. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1990. Policy and guidelines for planning and coordinating recovery of endangered and threatened species

This concept is underlined in the conclusion of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Steelhead Restoration and Management Plan where technological solutions are discussed, stating “…the real danger with this philosophy is that it can divert attention, and forestall real, long-term solutions.”

Similarly, the project is not “consistent with CDFW’s 2005 California Wildlife Action Plan, which sets forth goals for the Central Coast region that include restoring biologically significant regional river systems.” This project does not describe of achieve any “restoration” benefits.

The CC staff letter states: “The NMFS’ 2013 SCCCS Recovery Plan discusses the Sleepy Hollow Steelhead Rearing Facility and the important role it plays in sustaining SCCC steelhead populations”. This statement is also inaccurate and misleading. While NOAA (and CDFW) are engaged in artificial spawning and rearing (enhancement) operations as part of their commercial and recreationally fishing mandate, this artificial rearing facility does not meet their own separate mandate and criteria for “recovery” or “sustaining” wild steelhead populations. The Coastal Conservancy does not, and should not, have any mandate to financially or otherwise support artificial enhancement efforts and, as is acknowledged by CC staff, is directed to support restoration and recovery of ecosystem and listed species. This project does neither and should not be described as such.

Climate Change impacts are misleading, omitted, or not adequately addressed:

The CC staff letter states: “The proposed facility improvements are not vulnerable to other impacts of climate change. However, improved operation of the facility may mitigate the impacts of climate change on the recovery of SCCC steelhead by allowing the facility to operate in a wider range of river flows and thus provide more support to juvenile steelhead.” This statement is untrue. The facility is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. For example, the upstream Los Padres Reservoir (and dam) is filling in with sediment. As this reservoir fills over the coming years and becomes shallower and hotter, water quality downstream is expected to be dramatically reduced. The ability of this rearing facility to divert and maintain cool and adequate water quality for steelhead rearing will be diminished. Similarly, climate projections, include increased air and water temperatures, which are expected to both increase reservoir evaporation upstream, algal blooms in the reservoir, reduced river flows, and degraded river water quality supplying the rearing facility. This statement and supporting documents also fail to assess climate change impacts of the proposed operations, fossil fuel use for the extensive trucking operation, road use and repair costs, noise, and other impacts that NEPA/CEQA must assess. See below comment on Natural Selection for why the project likely makes steelhead less adaptable and resilient in the face of climate change.

Project does not meet “recovery” definition or funding criteria:

The staff letter states: “…improvements to the facility will aid in the recovery of SCCC steelhead. Accordingly, use of the funds for the proposed improvements is consistent with the terms of the settlement agreement.” “The proposed project will aide in the survival and recovery of the federally-threatened South-Central California Coast steelhead population.” Again, this is untrue according to the definition of the project and “recovery” definitions in the ESA, NOAA and CDFW documents, which center around benefitting and achieving “self-sustaining” and “self-regulating” steelhead populations.

Project is not consistent with CC enabling legislation:

The CC staff letter states: “As set forth in Section 31220(b)(7), this includes projects that will reduce the impact of population and economic pressures on coastal and marine resources. By rearing rescued SCCC steelhead, the SHSRF reduces the impacts to SCCC steelhead of over-pumping water from the Carmel River basin to supply the population of the Monterey Peninsula. Thus, improving the functioning of the SHSRF will protect SCCC steelhead, a coastal and living marine resource, from the impacts of populations pressures consistent with PRC 31220(b)(7).” The project does not reduce impacts to steelhead, it leaves the dewatering problem in place and artificially moves fish away from it where new impacts and conditions are created.

Project is not consistent with Local and State plans:

As noted above, this artificial rearing project does not “protect” “sensitive species and their habitats”. In fact, the project specifically does not minimize the stated adverse effects of the water withdrawals in the watershed, and actually diverts and modifies some river water itself. Contrary to protecting habitat, the project also acknowledges a “net loss of 34 square feet of aquatic channel habitat” and “removal of some riparian vegetation”. While mitigation measures are proposed, the project does not carry out new habitat protections or additional restoration beyond what a proposed construction project would entail.

Conflict of interest:

Support of this project presents a growing conflict of interest and disincentive for MPWMD, CAW, CC, NOAA, CDFW and others to enforce existing laws related to over allocation of water resources and to consider a wider range of alternatives for the Los Padres Dam upstream. Settlement and public funds should not be used to enable water users to mitigate or avoid harmful activities that should be curtailed with existing laws and enforcement. There is an inherent conflict of interest to collect settlement funds from a water user, then give it back to another water user that is working in partnership with that entity on the facility modifications proposed. CAW and MPWMD also work together on the upstream dam operations and releases that provides water to the rearing facility, which is “augmented during the dry months by releases from Los Padres Reservoir.”

The proposed project is a new and expanded water diversion facility requiring a comprehensive EIS:

The CC letter states: “To operate the facility, MPWMD diverts water from the Carmel River, runs it through several holding tanks and…then discharges it back to the river near the point of diversion.” The proposed new diversion would enable expanded diversion capabilities: “…will allow the facility to operate during very low flows and when sediment load is extraordinarily high during storm events”. Additional major impacts to the river and steelhead include: a “water intake … installed on a concrete base placed in the bottom of the pool”, “new pump station/wet well”, “settlement basin…to help remove sediment from the river water”, “backwash waste discharge to ground surface” near the top of the river bank. No discharge collection basin is identified to settle out suspended sediment and no bank protection is shown to prevent erosion to the creek bank. The project plan shows new cast concrete intake, rip rap, and riparian tree removal within the river channel and on the bank. All of these proposed major construction activities and modified diversion and discharge operations within the river channel requires a comprehensive EIS to assess the quality of water released, discharge of potential fish diseases that are well-documented in captive rearing facilities, discharge of project “waste” unto the unprotected river bank, and other impacts not yet assessed. The State Water Board and Army Corps must also weigh in on the waste/sediment/water discharge onto the river bank and into the river itself. Additionally, this altered water diversion requires additional assessment by the state related to modified water rights and diversion operations within required CEQA, NEPA, EIS assessments.

Adaptation - Natural Selection – Climate Change are Ignored:

The CC staff letter and project documents ignore the impact of the project on steelhead adaptation, natural selection, and climate change which must be addressed in a comprehensive EIS. The project’s fish trapping (downplayed as a fish “rescue”) imposes artificial selection pressure on steelhead, by rewarding captured fish that remain in a reach that becomes dewatered. This artificial selection may be having a serious negative influence on critical natural selection pressure and adaptation still encountered by uncaptured wild steelhead. This natural (or existing environmental) pressure is beneficial to encourage avoidance of river reaches prone to dewatering by promoting an adjustment to the timing and duration of migration through this reach. Excessive water withdrawals from the lower Carmel River basin is exacerbating the effects of climate change and lowering summer flows. By capturing and rearing a portion of the steelhead population, the project is imposing an artificial selective pressure that may be adversely impacting beneficial adaptations by the steelhead population to adjust to climate change and human changes to the river and flows. This may result in a less resilient and less climate adapted population over time, which could in turn limit steelhead recovery effectiveness and perpetuate the calls for more unsustainable human intervention and enhancement.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has noted that trap and haul programs can cause long-term evolutionary and population persistence problems as they “impose an artificial selective force and generally reduce fitness.” - Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Revised viability criteria for salmon and steelhead in the Willamette and lower Columbia basins. Review draft with the Willamette/Lower Columbia Technical Recovery Team.

Survival and mortality-
The CC staff letter and current level of project assessment does not adequately describe or analyze the full impact of the proposed rearing facility modifications and operations on survival and mortality of both captured steelhead and those remaining in the river. Beyond mortality rates of captured fish in the facility itself, mortality can occur during fish capture, transportation to the facility, handling, transportation back to the river, acclimation to the river, and the effects of stress, competition from crowding, and potential disease well after fish are released. These impacts and “take” have not been adequately assessed or described in the project documents. Additionally, the facility operations and risks (many of which are well-documented in other artificial breeding/rearing facilities) along with the fish capture and releases have profound impacts on wild steelhead in the river (including reduced water quality and quantity, facility born diseases, competition, predation and altered genetics due to artificial selection being imposed). A comprehensive EIS is needed to assess these complicated and critical evolutionary, climate change, and lasting fish recovery implications.

Additional Concerns and Inaccuracies in the CC Letter:

The CC staff letter states: “The SHSRF occupies a broad floodplain terrace bench above the river…” “A broad floodplain exists between the SHSRF buildings and the Carmel River.” This site description is misleading and inaccurate as it omits the highly disruptive, proposed new development and concrete structures, intake, and bank hardscaping within the river channel and streambed.

The CC letter states: “Now that San Clemente Dam has been removed, the need for the retrofit has become even more urgent.” This statement ignores the fact that one of the objectives of the dam removal project was to enable unimpeded steelhead access to dozens of miles of productive spawning and rearing habitat (as well as provide new habitat submerged by the reservoir). This dam removal objective was achieved and reduces the “urgency” and argument that an artificial rearing facility below the former dam site is justified. If anything, the dam removal should be allowed to enable steelhead to access and utilize the new and more easily accessible habitat to begin real recovery on their own and not within an artificial facility largely intended to mitigate pre-dam constraints. In addition to compromising the effectiveness of the dam removal project for wild steelhead, the artificial rearing facility detracts from the unique research and monitoring opportunity for a river and steelhead population on the mend. The Conservancy’s record of success supporting real recovery and restoration project should not be undermined and degraded by support of this or other unsustainable and ineffective artificial enhancement projects.

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