Salinas River Stream Maintenance Program (SMP)

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A watershed-related issue examined by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.


Throughout the 20th Century the Salinas Valley experienced a number of floods that greatly impacted the surrounding towns and agricultural lands. From 1995 through 2008 the Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) obtained a master permit allowing landowners and growers to perform maintenance work along the Salinas River to reduce the risks associated with flooding.[1] However, in 2008, the permitting changed and the MCWRA was required to develop a new program and obtain new permits, including the CEQA review processes. Since 2008, there has been no maintenance to the Salinas River. The Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program was developed to allow regular maintenance activities along the Salinas River. The goals of the program are to establish a regular and uniform set of maintenance activities to improve flood protection and minimize flood damages. Flood damage mitigation would be accomplished by increasing the channel capacity and flow capacity of the Salinas River.[2] The Program would establish guidelines and procedures for participants to routinely and voluntarily implement maintenance activities along the river, such as native and non-native vegetation management and sediment management .[3] While the final EIR was published in September of 2013, many stakeholders were unhappy with the Program because they felt it did not adequately address all of the issues. As a result, the (MCWRA) held four meetings in the beginning of 2014 to work with interested groups in understanding their concerns and incorporating new process in the Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program.[4] Currently, there is a large controversy surrounding the Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program and many organizations, particularly those representing landowners and growers, are further frustrated by the amount of time it is taking to allow for channel maintenance.[5] In contrast, many environmental groups are concerned with the impacts of vegetation removal and dredging to special status species. Of particular concern is potential impacts on steelhead trout migration routs, which is not addressed for in the EIR.[6]


Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program Area

The Salinas River is the largest river in California's Central Coast Region. The Salinas River is 170 miles long and drains an area of approximately 4,200 square miles. The headwaters of the Salinas river are in the La Panza Range in San Luis Obispo County. The Salinas River flows northwest through the Salinas Valley in Monterey County. The river drains to both the Salinas River Lagoon and the Moss Landing Harbor through the Old Salinas River Channel. Both the Salinas River Lagoon and Moss Landing Harbor empty into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program focuses on the Salinas River from river mile 2 (where the river crosses under the Highway 1 Bridge) to river mile 94.[3] In addition to the mainstem Salinas River, the Program also includes three tributaries: San Lorenzo Creek, Bryant Canyon Channel, and Gonzales Slough.

Resource/s at stake[4]

Proposed cons of channel alterations

The EIR claims that the only unavoidable impact from this proposed program is the degradation of the aesthetics of the river.[3]

Proposed cons of channel neglect

  • Damage to agricultural crops
    • A $4 billion dollar annual industry.[4]
  • Food Safety risks.
    • Flood waters can transport pathogens to crops.
    • Vegetation growing near agricultural lands is a potential threat to food safety because it creates habitat for wildlife.[7]
  • Damage to infrastructure
    • Transportation (roads, highways,bridges), communication, power.
  • Damage and breach of wastewater treatment facilities - public health risk.
  • Damage to city Infrastructure - city buildings and services including access to clean water.
  • Loss of Jobs.
  • loss of life - human and animal.


Laws, policies, & regulations

The MCWRA is responsible for the following:

  • A 404 Permit is required, which regulates dredging or fill material discharged into waters under the Clean Water Act.[8]
  • A 401 Permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board in the Central Coast, which is a water quality certification necessary for the 404 permit.[9]
  • An Endangered Species Act Section 7 and Biological Opinion will be required under the Endangered Species Act.
  • A Mitigated Negative Declaration was created for the initial study through the CEQA process in 2009.[10]
  • An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was created through the CEQA process.[3]

A local applicant would be required to obtain the following:

  • Permit for Streambed Alteration under Section 1600-1616 through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.[11]
  • An outline and description for a permit from MCWRA for a 5 year project.[12]

For more information on required permits see Common Permits Required for Restoration in the Central Coast

Two Bills have been proposed to address the current conflicts associated with the Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program:

  • SB 1398 was introduced by Senator Anthony Cannella in February 2014. SB 1398 would prevent lawsuits against farmers and landowners clearing vegetation unless it threatens safety. This bill would act as a loophole to CEQA and allow farmer's to clear the banks without the CEQA permits.[13]
  • AB 155 was introduced by Assembly member Luis Alejo in January 2013. AB 155 would require MCWRA to develop a "consensus-based comprehensive Salinas River Management Program".[14]


The Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program would allow volunteers to clear the stream banks of non-native vegetation, as well as dredge the channel to remove sediment. The dredging of the channel would create a larger channel to accommodate higher flows and reduce the risk of flooding. Currently, the riverbed and banks are overgrown with vegetation, primarily non-native vegetation, which is also reducing the capacity of the channel to hold water and diverting the flow.


  • Transects will be conducted in areas of proposed maintenance to evaluate the amount of vegetation and to analyze the changes from sediment removal.[10]
  • Aerial photography may also be used to analyze sites proposed for maintenance.[10]
  • Wildlife surveys were conducted to determine the species present in proposed maintenance areas.[10]
  • Special Status Species surveys were conducted along the Salinas River to determine the presence of these species.[10]


There will be a site screening processes to determine the best sites for maintenance. Within this screening process HEC-RAS will be used along transects of the river to determine the flow capacity at particular sites.[10]

Future research

There are a number of potential research opportunities related to the Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program:

  • Using Hydrologic modeling to determine the current capacity of the Salinas River and compare this with predictions of the capacity of the river with the proposed maintenance.

A potential AMWS thesis topic:

  • Using Aerial photography to analyze the historic changes to the Salinas River. This would include analyzing the changes in vegetation and channel migration before maintenance efforts began in 1995, throughout the time of maintenance (1995-2008), and since maintenance halted after 2008.


  1. Salinas River Historical and Current Briefings
  2. MCWRA Salinas River Stream Maintenance Program
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program Final EIR
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 MCWRA Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program Update, March 2014
  5. Monterey Farm Bureau Salinas River Channel Maintenance Program
  6. The Californian River Wrangles Unresolved Dec. 2012
  7. Natural Resource Conservation Practices
  8. EPA Clean Water Act 404 Permitting
  9. State Water Resources Control Board 401 Permit
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 SRCMP Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration
  11. A DFW Streambed Alteration Program
  12. Salinas River Short Term Sustainability Proposal
  13. Monterey County Weekly Cannella's proposed SB 1398
  14. Alejo's proposed AB 155


This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessary reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.