Shovels Start Rubber Dam

Ceremonial golden shovels moved rain-soaked earth Thursday to celebrate the start of a major Monterey County water project.

Elected officials and representatives of the county Water Resources Agency gathered near the Salinas River and Davis Road to commemorate the beginning of construction of the long-awaited Salinas Valley Water Project rubber dam.

Because of rainy weather, the ceremony was held a few miles from the actual planned site of the rubber dam in Marina.

“We’re going to build this,” said Stephen Collins, vice chairman of the Water Resources Agency’s board of directors, at a reception held at Laguna Seca after the groundbreaking.

The project is composed of a rubber dam, pumps and equipment that will cover 5.7 acres of the Salinas River about five miles above where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Construction of the dam will require removing about 345 trees along the river and will start in April, once final construction plans are completed next month with contractor Granite Rock, Weeks said.

The rubber dam will inflate during the summer to capture Salinas River water that otherwise flows to the Pacific Ocean.

A second component of the project will modify a dam spillway on Lake Nacimiento in south county to better control the flow of water from the reservoir.

Aim: Recharge aquifers

The county Board of Supervisors approved the Salinas Valley Water Project in 2002. It will provide 30,000 additional acre-feet of water each year for groundwater basin recharge and agricultural irrigation with reclaimed water for the Castroville area.

“(Water shortages) represent the biggest problem in our county,” said Curtis Weeks, Water Resources Agency general manager.

The project is designed to recharge exhausted underground water basins that run the length of the county and to meet the county’s water needs through 2030.

“The Salinas Valley Water Project will help, there is no doubt,” Supervisor Lou Calcagno said.

About 600,000 acre-feet of ground water is used every year in the county, 90 percent of it for agricultural irrigation and the remaining 10 percent for urban uses.

Yet more water needed

Weeks said there are no solutions or projects yet for how to address water needs beyond 2030, as pledged by the project, but they will be needed.

Julie Engell, a north county resident, said the water project will fall short of meeting water needs of projected population growth before 2030 and fails to provide a long-term solution to the county’s water problems.

“Even if we are able to stop increasing our demand for water today, we’re already in trouble, and there’s going to have to be a new water source,” said Engell, chairwoman of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition. The group has fought successfully to prevent development in the Rancho San Juan area north of Salinas, arguing that, among other things, the development would overburden an already-compromised water supply.

As for the water project, years of delays have nearly doubled its cost from $18.8 million to $33 million. Some of the postponements came about when the federal government took five years to issue an opinion on how the project would affect the migration of endangered steelhead trout up the Salinas River to spawning grounds on the Arroyo Seco River.

In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries granted final approval of a biological opinion and issued permits that were the last steps before construction could start.

Contact Dawn Withers at

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