Carmel River Floodplain Restoration and Environmental Enhancement Project (Carmel River FREE)

In partnership with the County of Monterey, we are leading the landmark Carmel River Floodplain Restoration and Environmental Enhancement (Carmel River FREE) Project. Another example of Big Sur Land Trust's long-term commitment to conservation and land in service of community, Carmel River FREE will restore habitat and help significantly reduce flood risks for homes and businesses in the lower Carmel River watershed.

This project is one of the most extensive and important multi-benefit flood protection and riparian habitat restoration efforts on the Central Coast! Using a nature-based green infrastructure solution, it will reclaim the southern floodplain to direct water away from developed areas north of the river. It includes numerous partners and stakeholders, engineering, design and environmental review, permit approvals and, of course, dollars. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors certified the project's Final Environmental Impact Report on January 28, 2020, and on June 15, 2021 they approved the Project and authorized County staff to move forward to finalize permits and obtain needed agreements and entitlements. On June 21, 2022, the Board approved an updated and revised Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the County, BSLT, CA State Department of Parks and Recreation (CSP), Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD), Monterey County Water Resources, and Monterey Peninsula Water Management District for the purpose of coordinating the project’s planning and construction activities.

Big Sur Land Trust’s 128-acre project site at the former Odello (East) Fields was donated to us by Clint Eastwood and Margaret Eastwood.  While Big Sur Land Trust is the largest landowner at the Carmel River FREE site, portions of the project are also located on Palo Corona Regional Park and Carmel River State Beach. Habitat restoration on the project site will be guided by two restoration plans. A Tier 1 Restoration Management Plan will guide compensatory restoration (required by regulatory agencies to mitigate for impacts) on land owned by BSLT and CSP. A Tier 2 Habitat Management Plan will be implemented by BSLT and will guide initial revegetation and ongoing adaptive habitat management (non-compensatory) on BSLT and MPRPD property.

What's happening next

BSLT is continuing to work with the County to raise the necessary funds to construct Carmel River FREE. With all costs going up these days, we greatly appreciate the recent $2 million investment secured by California State Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) through the state budget process for priorities in District 17.

In order to utilize previously existing State grant funding and begin project implementation, Carmel River FREE will now be carried out in two phases. Phase 1 will focus on the project site to the east of Highway One, including Big Sur Land Trust’s property (formerly known as “Odello East”) and a small portion of Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District’s property. The floodplain south of the Carmel River will be graded, and soil will be moved to build up the foundation for a future 23-acre agricultural preserve. Erosion control seeding and initial restoration plantings will begin, and pathways will be created in the floodplain for conveying floodwaters under the highway via a causeway that will be built during Phase 2 of the project. The County has gone out to bid, and we anticipate that construction on Phase 1 will begin this fall.

Key elements of Phase 2 include, but are not limited to, building the Highway One causeway, floodplain grading on California State Parks property on the west side of the highway, levee notching on the south side of the river, and finalizing trails. We are waiting for FEMA’s final determination on the $25.3 grant request for the project submitted by the County, which would fund a significant portion of the remaining work. Once all the funding is secured the County could potentially go out to bid in 2023 – meaning construction could possibly begin in 2024.

How you can contribute

Ongoing floodplain restoration and stewardship will require additional funding. Anticipating this critical need, in 2016 we set up a stewardship fund with the Community Foundation for Monterey County. For more information contact Kate Mitchell Mehle at 831.625.5523 ext.105.

Carmel River FREE Project Overview Slides