Coastal Post Online


October, 2003

A Brief History Of The Bolinas Lagoon
By Josh Churchman
          There is little doubt that the Bolinas Lagoon was once a deep water harbor. There are many photographs of schooners tied at various places in the lagoon where a schooner now could no longer go. There are places where schooners were moored then that even a kayak can't go today. I have a boat in my yard that was built for Bolinas thirty years ago and there is no way for it to come and go anymore. It is a sad thing to watch.
   There are still people who will argue that nothing has changed. They will suggest it is "natural" that this estuary should close off from the sea. They will tell you that the lagoon was once this shallow a thousand years ago and that it is all part of a "cycle." It seems that everything in life is part of one cycle or another and everything is "natural." No matter what happens, it will be "natural," and part of "the plan."
   If the Army Corps of Engineers came in and dredged the whole thing and made it deep again, it would be as much a part of the "natural cycle" as if we did nothing. It was part of the "cycle" when man came and logged all the hillsides around the lagoon to build and re-build San Francisco, and it was apparently part of this same plan to graze and farm and accelerate sedimentation in any number of ways. No matter what you or I do in life, it is part of the plan the minute we do it.
   The really sad part is in the process. I have watched and talked all the way along the roads of studies and advisory committees and environmental concerns of every shape and color and watched in wonder as several million dollars have been spent to study to find out if we really need another study. (This is where the current lagoon project is in 2003.)
   There are so many agencies involved that need their concerns met that it is a virtual gridlock of opinions. The health of the lagoon is lost in the battle of egos and strategies amongst these various agencies.
   The species diversity of fish found in the lagoon has declined sharply in recent years. There were no good studies of fish in the lagoon in the 70's or 80's or, for that matter, ever. All information on that subject is anecdotal, not scientific. Who really cares about fish anyway?
   We have many studies on the birds; they are doing just fine. Diving birds are being replaced by marsh type birds but that is interesting and very suited to more study. The seals are well watched and protected and are experiencing a population boom. If the seals could express their concerns, I'll bet they would care about the fish.
   At one of the meetings, this guy from the Army Corps came in dressed absolutely impeccably. He was wearing at least a thousand dollar bill. He had come to update us on the process the Corps was making on the "Lagoon Project."
   Someone in the audience asked him how the $1,200,000 will actually be spent when it gets to the Army Corps. Good question. He stood up and gave us all a knowing smile. Not to be specific, just in general, he said, the money goes in the front door and into the Appropriations Department. When it leaves Appropriations, it is down to around $800,000.  It then goes to the various departments like Modeling and Feasibility Studies and so on down the line.
   In the end, I felt like we would be lucky if a grad student came out once or twice to actually look at the lagoon in person. I remember thinking that this whole system is a scam. All you need to do is find something that needs a study and find someone to pay you to do the studying. I'll bet we get a big fat term paper for our $1,200,000.
   In fact, the Army Corps paid a company called "tetra tech" to do exactly that. We got two nice volumes describing everything from history to tidal prism options. Not one grain of sand or mud was touched and we spent all that money.
   With the money spent on that study, I could have and would have bought a small dredge, arranged with local Jerry Tergis to haul the mud for clean fill, paid a crew and had money to operate for another five years.
   The Lagoon project got killed this year and I, for one, was just sad. The assassination was performed virtually single-handedly by a very concerned and clever member of the Sierra Club.
   The project is not dead, according to the Army Corps guy and others. It just needs to step back.
   The latest move is to put out bids for a contractor who can come in and tell us once and for all if we have a siltation problem in the Bolinas Lagoon.
   Like I said, it is a sad thing to watch.



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