Salinas River restoration effort receives $3M grant

Arundo donax has taken over vast stretches of land along the Salinas River. (Contributed Photo)

Funding to help control invasive species

SOUTH COUNTY — A $2.9 million grant has been awarded to the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County to help eradicate 215 acres of an invasive plant that has infested more than 1,500 acres of the Salinas River.

The funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board will go toward Phase IV of the Resource Conservation District’s Salinas River Arundo Eradication Program, created to control hundreds of acres of arundo donax, an invasive nonnative bamboo-like plant along the river.

According to the Resource Conservation District, arundo grows in dense stands along the river, crowding out native vegetation and creating a flood hazard to adjacent cities and farmland. The plant also consumes huge amounts of water, leaving less water available for fish, wildlife and farmers.

Currently 500 acres of arundo are under continued treatment between San Ardo and Soledad. This summer the Resource Conservation District will begin mowing another 130 acres of arundo between Soledad and Gonzales.

Mowing reduces the biomass of tall, dense arundo stands, which facilitates herbicide treatments in subsequent years. A total of 215 acres of arundo will be treated under the new grant.

Permission from individual landowners and farmers to conduct the work is required, as the property along the river is almost entirely privately-held.

“Fortunately, there’s no love lost on arundo by pretty much anyone on the river,” said Paul Robins, executive director of the Resource Conservation District, in a news release.

In addition, the project will include monitoring the effects of arundo removal on the ecosystem. Resource Conservation District Ecologist and Project Manager Emily Zefferman will work with Professors Jenny Duggan and John Olson at California State University Monterey Bay and Biologists Tanya Diamond and Ahíga Snyder of Pathways for Wildlife to look for changes in communities of bats, invertebrates and terrestrial wildlife.

“We have seen increases in the amount and diversity of wildlife in areas where we have cleared arundo, but so far we haven’t quantified this benefit,” Zefferman said. “The Salinas River corridor has some of the only remaining wildlife habitat in the Salinas Valley, and it’s important that we understand how wildlife respond to vegetation management along the river.” 

The Resource Conservation District will also work with engineering firm FlowWest to track improvements in flow conveyance and changes to the hydrology and channel form of the river.

“In areas where arundo is removed we expect to see a shift from a single channel system to a more natural multi-channel system that spreads water out over a greater area,” Zefferman said. “And, without arundo sucking up so much water, we anticipate increases in the size of wetlands in the greater river corridor and the length of time they hold water, which is great for amphibians and other critters.”

The $2.9 million grant comes from the Proposition 1 Water Bond, which was approved by California voters in 2014. California Wildlife Conservation Board awards Prop 1 funds through the Stream Flow Enhancement Program. This is the second award the Resource Conservation District has received from Prop 1 funds, and the third award overall from the Wildlife Conservation Board since 2014.

Other funding sources include $1.7 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year for arundo control and more than $400,000 from the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner.

“We’re grateful for the Wildlife Conservation Board’s consistent investment in the improvement of the Salinas River,” Robins said. “We’re fortunate to have such abundant support for such critical work.”

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