River in Ruin: The Story of the Carmel River

By Ray A. March | Go to book overview

3 NOT ENOUGH WATER
Building the Chinese Dam

When Crocker first coveted its waters in 1880, the Carmel River was a simple, peaceful stream. It started high in the Santa Lucia Mountains as seepage that could be mistaken for leftover rainwater. It was so narrow it required no effort to step across it. As the river spilled out of the mountains and into its watershed, it gradually grew in size, but even then, it was a modest river. Only during the winters when heavy rains came did it become exceptional in its size and character, rushing over its banks and filling its floodplain. In times when few people were in its path, floods were not as threatening to property, and the river, free to roam, took its own course. Most of the time the Carmel River flowed continuously and peacefully to the ocean. And there were fish in the river. Steelhead trout returned from the ocean to their birthplace when the river would push away the ocean’s sandbar and let the freshness of its waters mix with the salt of the sea.

Untapped and free flowing, the Carmel River was the obvious solution to the needs of Hotel Del Monte and the Pacific Improvement Company’s plans for the development of the Monterey Peninsula, for the land adjacent to the hotel, and along the scenic coastline west of Monterey where Pacific Grove now sits. Accessible, and with no one claiming water rights to it, the river was the only rational answer. Crocker held an agreement with Monterey to run a pipeline to the hotel, but to deliver the water, a dam was needed to collect runoff from the Santa Lucia watershed feeding the river. Skirting both the hill between

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