In 2015, California American Water responsibly retired the San Clemente Dam, a concrete structure located approximately 18 miles upstream of the Pacific Ocean on the Carmel River. The dam once stored drinking water for thousands of people around the Monterey Peninsula, but its reservoir had silted up due to natural processes. The dam had nearly reached the end of its 100-year life expectancy, posing a serious seismic safety risk to the 1,500 structures in its downstream floodplain. In choosing whether to repair the now useless dam or remove it altogether, Cal Am elected to pay more than half of the $83 million dollar project to do the right thing and improve the overall health of the Carmel River.

Built in 1921, the concrete arch dam had long impeded fish passage and the natural movement of sediment along the Carmel River. By voluntarily removing the dam, Cal American restored access to 25 miles of habitat for the threatened Steelhead trout and improved the river’s overall ecosystem. The work provided 900 local jobs and resolved a public safety threat to homes in the Carmel River floodplain. By donating the site and adjacent land, Cal Am also opened up 5,400 acres of adjacent land to outdoor recreation. The dam removal project was a historic example of how public-private partnerships can overcome numerous political, procedural, and engineering challenges to deliver benefits to an entire community and ecosystem.