Using Military Expertise to Help Take Down the San Clemente Dam?

Recently, John Woodly, the former Assistant Secretary of the Army of Civil Works, wrote an article citing previous Administrations’ efforts to utilize unique government expertise in public and private sector projects. Specifically, he highlighted a dam removal project in North Carolina as an example of a collaborative effort that brought together civilian biologists and engineers to work with military demolition experts as means of “getting more from each appropriated dollar.” Fortunately, as Woodly noted in the recent article, California too has a dam removal project ripe for government funding.

The San Clemente Dam Removal Project provides an excellent opportunity to maximize the use of public dollars to achieve multiple objectives. The project will remove an unsafe dam, help to restore a vibrant ecosystem along the Carmel River, and in the process can provide prime training for military personnel.

The dam removal project is being carried out through a unique public-private partnership of California American Water (a private company), the State of California, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is widely supported by federal, state, and local agencies, as well as conservation and community groups. The Planning and Conservation League Foundation has played an important role in working jointly with the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy to complete a watershed study of the impacts of the dam structure, and we now are working on a public outreach and education campaign on the positive effects the dam removal will have in the watershed and public safety.

For three years, the California State Coastal Conservancy has been trying to secure the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) assistance on the project through the Innovative Readiness Training Program (IRT). Despite the fact that the California National Guard has confirmed that the project would provide an excellent training opportunity due to the rugged terrain in the project area, the IRT program has rejected the project. Requests by Congressman Farr, Senators Boxer and Feinstein, and the CNG for DoD to overcome this obstacle have been unsuccessful.

So far, nearly $75 million of the estimated $83 million needed to complete the project has been secured by the project partners. Of that, less than $1.5 million comes from federal sources. The assistance of the IRT could provide valuable on-the-ground training for our forces while also helping to recover to listed species and a river system.  As Mr. Woodly stated, “We hear a lot about partnerships and collaboration in D.C., but I’m speaking of tangible projects, not just process alone, and that’s where we’ve really fallen short in the past few years.” If Secretary of Defense Panetta wants an easy success, the San Clemente Dam Removal project can provide it.