River in Ruin: The Story of the Carmel River

By Ray A. March | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

The Kirk Complex Fire, as it became known, was not controlled until November 30, 1999. A total of 87,619 acres were burned, of which 48,136 acres—more than half the total area of the fire—were in the Carmel River watershed. It cost $72 million to eventually stop the burning. A postfire assessment by the U.S. Forest Service estimated that capacity of the reservoir behind Los Padres Dam—“the sole source of drinking water for the City of Carmel,” and already seriously diminished by the 1977 Marble-Cone Fire—would be further reduced by 10 percent. Furthermore, there was a definite danger to the water quality of the Carmel River and its already threatened steelhead.

Since the Kirk Complex Fire, an estimated seven hundred acres per year are managed by “controlled” or prescribed burns, according to the U.S. Forest Service. “The Monterey District does not get a lot of support for burning from the local community,” one U.S. Forest Service official explained. “All it takes is one landowner to say no, and a lot of planning goes to waste. The public gets tired of the environmental reviews and time it takes for reviews. Public support is there one minute, and gone the next. We do get some support, but most supporting groups lose interest due to the amount of time for reviews and other agency compliance.”

In 1987 the Carmel River’s public agency guardian, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD), issued a study for managing the river. The study dealt with a variety of

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