Salinas and Carmel River Basins Study

Science Center Objects

Together, the Salinas and Carmel river basins include some of the world’s most fertile agricultural lands and are internationally known for their natural beauty; ecological diversity; multi-national cultural history; and recreation opportunities such as fishing, auto racing, and golfing. The area is oftentimes referred to as the “Salad Bowl of the World” or “America’s Salad Bowl” because of the variety of crops grown.

Approximately one-third of the state’s annual strawberry yield is grown in the area. Wine grapes are so important and distinctive that there are three designated “American Viticultural Area” domains within the area. With a total value of over $1.9 billion, by itself Monterey County is the fourth highest agricultural producing county in California. Combined with the agricultural production of San Luis Obispo County, the area under this proposed basin study is one of the most important areas in California and the western United States.

Within the Salinas and Carmel River basins; however, is an imbalance in the water supply and demand is being exacerbated by the extended drought, competing demands, and climate change.


Conduct a collaborative study to evaluate future water supply and demand imbalances in a changing climate. The goal of this Basin Study is to identify the most economically feasible, environmentally preferable and technically sustainable solutions to meet the future water resource management needs for all Salinas and Carmel River stakeholders. Building on Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Plans, collaborative approaches will lead to identifying climate adaptation strategies that have the most benefits for the region and improved cooperative and integrated opportunities for more effective operation of existing systems and developing new projects. Water management strategies identified in the IRWM Plans will likely need to be refined given the results of the Basin Study’s climate change-based analysis of supplies, demands, issues, and opportunities within the study area.

The Salinas and Carmel Rivers Basin Study also provides opportunities to improve inter-agency collaboration and develop integrated strategies for securing regional sustainable water supplies that benefit agricultural, urban, and environmental water demands. Strategies for adapting to climate change, including changing precipitation patterns, runoff, and sea level rise must be developed and integrated into the watershed management of the Salinas and Carmel River Basins. The Basin Study will, therefore, provide a scientific and collaborative basis for the development and implementation of current and future planning decisions that will yield management and land use decisions for sustainable water supplies.

This Study provides opportunities to develop solutions and strategies to fill gaps in supply and demand planning, reduce risks to property and infrastructure associated with climate change, and improve sustainability of aquifers and rivers in order to provide adequate water supplies for the benefit of all users well into the future.

Science Plan

The Basin Study partners are actively engaged in pursuing sustainable practices in accordance of with the requirements of the State’s Groundwater Sustainability Act (SGMA). Together, the partners are developing plans for sustainable groundwater management in the basins. The partners have implemented changes in conjunctive use programs to improve steelhead recovery and participate in one another’s operating and public outreach committees. The partners are dedicated to pursuing and evaluating the challenges of water resource management so that together, along with decision makers, they will collectively ensure future generations are provided with the tools to adapt to available water supplies and demand in proactive and responsible measures.

The Basin Study partners are all key participants in California’s IRWM Plan Program. Each is leading and/or participating in numerous water resources planning and implementation projects that have and will continue to shape water resource management through the use of an integrated watershed planning and management approach. Perhaps more importantly, their ongoing participation and familiarity with the IRWM Plan process means their regulating boards are accomplished with the use and procedures of the integrated planning process, their stakeholders are accustomed to participating in this process, and their service area residents are familiar with the process and its results. The Basin Study partners are also collaborating with each other by being stakeholders in each other’s IRWM Plan efforts and participating in committees that have regional impacts. The associated IRWM Plans cover the following study areas: 1) the San Luis Obispo County Plan; 2) the Greater Monterey County Plan; 3) the Monterey Peninsula Carmel Bay, and Southern Monterey Bay Plan. Pursuant to California’s requirements, these IRWM Plans must address estimates of current and future water supply and demand, and the water management strategies of water supply reliability, water quality protection and improvement, groundwater management, ecosystem restoration, environmental and habitat protection and improvement, flood management, recreation and public access, storm water capture and management, water conservation, water recycling, and wetlands enhancement and creation on a regional basin. It is therefore the plan of the Basin Study partners to use these existing integrated watershed planning and management stakeholder network and framework to guide and develop the Salinas and Carmel Rivers Basin Plan Study. The IRWM Plans establish “working groups." Members are expected to participate in all aspects of the IRWM Planning process. During Plan development, members attend monthly meetings, participate on subcommittees to develop various elements of the Plan, identify regional issues and conflicts, determine goals and objectives, and develop the process for ranking projects. As part of the Basin Plan Study, a Plan will be developed to identify how stakeholders will be engaged during the study, coordinated with the ongoing IRWM Plan outreach.

The Basin Study area is comprised of four sub-basins: Salinas Valley Basin (SVB), Seaside Groundwater Sub-Basin (SGB), Carmel River Bain (CRB), and the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (PRGB). All four of these basins are in a current state of imbalance between supply and demand as demonstrated by seawater intrusion and groundwater level declines.