The county’s recent fire relief takes the form of water barriers, large plastic shells filled with water that act as a protective blockade, for properties along Pine Canyon Road in the northwestern Salinas Valley, within the area damaged by the River Fire in August 2020. (Contributed Photo)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Emergency watershed protection work on eight properties in the wildfire areas from 2020’s Carmel and River fires has concluded in a partnership between Monterey County and the federal government.

Tom Moss, senior hydrologist with the county’s public works department, said eight projects were completed as of Dec. 24. 

The properties were mostly in the River Fire area along River Road south of Salinas, Moss announced during a media briefing Jan. 13.

The Emergency Watershed Protection Program was a federal initiative offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which provides technical assistance and funding for post-fire hazard projects.

“Following the 2020 Carmel and River fires, thankfully the federal government funded that program and the county supervisors signed on as a local sponsor of that,” Moss said.

Several departments have been involved over the past several months since the summer fires, but Moss highlighted the watershed protection as a recent project that helped safeguard properties that would experience further complications as a result of fire damage in the area.

Through the project, NRCS identified sites and solutions in the fire areas after evaluating impacted properties. The aim was to protect structures from post-fire hazards, specifically debris flows, rock fall and flooding.

“A lot of these properties were at increased risk following the fires,” Moss said. “The federal government through the project paid 75% of the costs, the property owner was responsible for 25% of the cost and the county as the sponsor pays the upfront construction cost and then gets reimbursed by the NRCS and the property owners.”

Through the site assessments, NCRS identified 16 properties that would qualify for the program. 

“Once we knew the properties that qualified, the county public works and our contractor, Granite Construction, prepared construction cost estimates and went to these sites and talked to the property owners,” Moss said.

He added that after contacts and attempts to contact were made, eight property owners wanted to move forward with projects to safeguard their land.

“Those projects were predominantly water barriers, sand bags or a combination of water barriers and sand bags,” Moss said. “We had some fencing projects installed to protect a structure from rock fall.”

Sandbags and water barriers are set up to help protect properties along Wildwood Way south of Salinas. (Contributed Photo)

Water barriers, he explained, were like K-rails or Jersey barriers, in that they are plastic shells filled with water that weigh more than 1,000 pounds each.

Some solutions, however, were as simple as sandbags to keep shallow debris flows from entering property.

Wattles and stakes are available for wildfire survivors with destroyed or damaged structures at the following protection districts: Monterey County Rural Fire District Toro Station, 19900 Portola Drive in Salinas; Cachagua Fire, at the corner of Nason and Cachagua roads; and Big Sur Fire Station, near Post Ranch Inn at 47911 Highway 1.

They are offered to property owners affected by the Carmel, Dolan and River fires, especially considering the rainy forecast for the upcoming week.

Straw wattles placed around burned areas can reduce the chances of ashes and other harmful materials from washing into streams.

“The ash and debris of burned structures contains deadly toxins, such as heavy metals, asbestos and nitrates, and is a potential source of pollution should rainwater wash it into streams,” the county said in a news release.

Water barriers help protect a home along Limekiln Road west of Gonzales. Such fire relief efforts were made possible by a watershed protection collaboration between Monterey County and the federal government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. (Contributed Photo)
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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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