Carmel River, California

Project Submission by: The California Fish Passage Forum

The Carmel River Reroute and San Clemente Dam Project is the largest dam removal project ever to occur in California ($83 million) and one of the largest to occur on the West Coast. It involved removal of a 106-foot high antiquated dam and implemented a watershed restoration process. The project is intended to:

• Provide a long-term solution to the public safety risk posed by the potential collapse of the outdated San Clemente Dam in the event of a large flood or earthquake, which would have threatened 1,500 homes and other public buildings.

• Provide unimpeded access to over 25 miles of essential spawning and rearing habitat, thereby aiding in the recovery of threatened South-Central California Coast steelhead.

• Restore the river’s natural sediment flow, helping to replenish sand on Carmel Beach and improve habitat downstream of the dam for steelhead.

• Reduce beach erosion that contributes to destabilization of homes, roads, and infrastructure.

• Re-establish a healthy connection between the lower Carmel River and the watershed above San Clemente Dam.

• Improve habitat for threatened California red-legged frogs.

Human Interest/Community Benefit:

The San Clemente Dam Removal and Carmel River Reroute Project represents one of the best opportunities for river restoration on California’s Central Coast. Permanently removing the dam eliminated the public safety risk posed by San Clemente Dam, which was declared seismically unsafe by the State of California and threatened 1,500 homes and other buildings. The removal of the dam will also aid in the recovery of South-Central California Coast steelhead, a threatened species, by providing unimpaired access to over 25 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined restoration of the Carmel River steelhead population is critical to the recovery of the species, in part because it serves as an “anchor” providing occasional dispersal of fish to nearby smaller coastal populations which would not persist otherwise. Additional benefits of the project include: restoring the natural sediment regime, reducing channel incision and reducing beach erosion that now contributes to destabilization of homes, roads and infrastructure; improving habitat for threatened California Red-Legged Frogs; and expanding public recreation opportunities in the region by preserving over 900 acres of watershed lands, resulting in over 5,400 acres of contiguous park land.

Project Timeline:

The San Clemente Dam was removed during the summer of 2015 after two years of construction work to reroute the river, relocate the reservoir sediments, and prepare the site. Remaining work on the site includes habitat restoration and removal of a small, obsolete dam downstream of the project site.


  • California American Water
  • California Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • California Natural Resources Agency
  • California Wildlife Conservation Board
  • California State Coastal Conservancy
  • National Marine Fisheries Service – NOAA
  • Resources Legacy Fund
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Project supporters and participants:

  • U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer
  • California State Assembly member Bill Monning, California State Assembly member Mark Stone
  • Monterey County Board District Supervisor Dave Potter
  • American Rivers
  • California Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • California Natural Resources Agency
  • CalTrout
  • California Wildlife Conservation Board
  • Carmel River Steelhead Association
  • Carmel River Watershed Conservancy
  • Central Coastal Regional Water Quality Control Board
  • Friends of the River
  • Monterey CoastKeeper
  • Monterey County Water Resource Agency
  • Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District
  • Monterey Peninsula Water Management District
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Planning and Conservation League Foundation
  • Resources Legacy Fund
  • San Clemente Rancho
  • Surfrider Foundation, Monterey Chapter
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

2016 Waters to Watch