Carmel River Lagoon Enhancement Project


The Carmel River Lagoon lies at the end of the Carmel River between two residential areas: Carmel By The Sea to the north and Carmel Meadows to the south. During the dry season the lagoon is separated from the ocean by a sandbar. The southern backwater (South Arm) is a linear waterway (c. 200 m before implementation of the enhancement project). A small hill with underlying bedrock confines the South Arm to a narrow channel that swells at high water into a wetland that was once used for agriculture. At some point in the past a separate channel existed several hundred meters to the south of the lagoon, running alongside the steep granite bluffs in between the lagon and Carmel Meadows (The South Arm). The land area between this channel and the Carmel River was farmed for many years by the Odello family, and eventually acquired by California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR). In recent years, the south channel has existed as a remnant channel – a willow-dominated muddy habitat, only submerged during the highest lagoon stages, and during the largest floods.

In the summer of 2004, the CDPR implemented the construction phase of the Carmel River Lagoon Enhancement Project (CRLEP). The project significantly expanded the pre-existing lagoon by excavating a new channel on former Odello farmland adjacent to the remnant south channel down to below sea level.

The Carmel River Lagoon Enhancement Project (CRLEP) involves the excavation and planting of new lagoon, marsh, and riparian habitats. One of the primary purposes of this project is to create more habitat or refuge area for two federally threatened species: specifically steelhead trout and California Red-Legged frog. The creation of a new portion of the lagoon, marsh, and riparian habitat as an extension of the pre-existing South Arm was achieved by digging into the earth, removing the layer dirt that covered the water table. Ground water would fill in where dirt was being removed.

Two groups of Watershed Institute are involved: Return of the Natives is actively leading re-vegetation efforts in the newly excavated portion of the South Arm, and the Central Coast Watershed Studies Team is monitoring the water in the entire lagoon. The monitoring objective was initially to detect any possible adverse impacts of construction activities on the original lagoon, and then to assess whether the enhancement is successful in providing habitat with good water quality, adequate invertebrate food for steelhead, and ultimately the presence of steelhead. These monitoring activities will continue for 2 more years.