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September 28, 2023

Concerns rise over Monterey County’s reservoir water levels

Area leaders tour dams to view impacts of drought

MONTEREY COUNTY — State and county leaders recently took a tour of Nacimiento and San Antonio dams to get a first-hand look of the impacts of drought and facility conditions. 

Both reservoirs have reached near record lows, with Nacimiento at 14% capacity and San Antonio at 7%. Water releases from the reservoirs have ceased as of July 28, with the visible effects in the north county being a drying of the Salinas River.

Though the 7% at San Antonio amounts to 50,000 acre-feet of water, it can’t be released.

“We can’t get the release out of here to aid the flows,” said Brent Buche, general manager for the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, during the Aug. 11 tour. 

Buche added, “We operate the systems together in order to get water into the Salinas River and down to Salinas to our diversion facility. It requires making releases from both reservoirs.”

Standing in front of San Antonio reservoir, (from left) District 1 County Supervisor Luis Alejo, State Sen. John Laird, Assemblymember Robert Rivas and District 3 County Supervisor Chris Lopez listen to an Aug. 11 presentation on the drought’s effects on water reserves within Monterey County. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Ongoing drought conditions may cause consideration of water usage cutbacks if significant rainfall doesn’t take place in the upcoming year.

The flow of water from both reservoirs is critical to the county, which relies on them to refill the groundwater as an independent region rather than having water come in from the state.

“Monterey County does not receive any of the state water system water,” said Chris Lopez, county supervisor.

“The entire county is self-reliant on their water source,” Buche added. “We do not get water from the state and we do not get water from the feds. So when we meet with our state representatives, we remind them of that.”

Monterey County Water Resources Agency General Manager Brent Buche speaks about the drought conditions in front of the San Antonio dam spillway, which has not had any water flowing through it since July. (Sean Roney/Staff)

State Sen. John Laird compared the current drought to the one from 2011 to 2015. He noted getting water quicker with drought relief projects would serve the long-term interests of the region.

Last week’s tour included discussion of capital improvements for both dams to increase their capacity, which would cost $150 million because of regulatory requirements. 

Buche said the condition of the dam spillways, with San Antonio’s having visible mineral staining, could prove hazardous in the event of a large storm in the future.

Monterey County Water Resources Agency General Manager Brent Buche speaks about the drought conditions in front of San Antonio reservoir, which is currently at 7% capacity, too low to have any water drained into the county’s water system. (Sean Roney/Staff)
Sean Roney
Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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