The Coastal Post - October, 1995

Bolinas Lagoon, Meadow Or Inland Waterway?

BY STEPHEN SIMAC

The Bolinas Lagoon may be studied again, this time with a federally-financed study costing $500,000, if tentative Congressional approval holds firm. The money was lobbied for by the Committee to Save Bolinas Lagoon.

The Committee had come under suspicion because of their private ways, which set off a divisive conflict in the communities around the lagoon this summer. Secrecy was partially suspended in September by the Committee at the urging of local gadflies and media opinion pieces.

The audience and board members of the Bolinas Lagoon Technical Advisory Board were putting on a happy face at their meeting last month over the possibility of Washington spending a half million dollars on a more thorough study of the Bolinas Lagoon. The dollars are tied into millions more to be allocated for actual implementation when the study is finished. Somewhere around the millennium.

The conviviality was strained when Dotty leMieux accused the Committee of false and malicious advertising, by stating in their direct mail fund-raising leaflet "Bolinas Lagoon will be a meadow in 2008.."

While the latest report on the lagoon lends support to that scenario, stating that "emergent salt marsh will have increased more than 400% compared to 1968," it is definitely a worst-case scenario. That the lagoon's mouth will close off with a combination of huge waves and a neap ebb tide is the most likely scenario. But even then the mouth will seasonally open for decades. The lagoon will become a meadow at some unpredictable time in the future. Twelve years from now might be an early estimate, but to galvanize a response you can't say "in fifty years there will be a trailer park in the lagoon." Who cares?

The silver-haired gents from the Committee cooly stood their stand, and explained that they were a private organization, funded by donors, not members. They are not trying to develop the lagoon, but trying to save it. They were told by Rep. Henry Miller that their lobbying had to include economic factors or they wouldn't be funded.

It appeared the rumors scuttled about that the Committee was some secret cabal wanting to dredge the lagoon for Seadrift's boon had been campaign publicity, tabloid journalism or simply illustrated the truth that if you want publicity, then try to keep something secret. An example is the media coverage of the disappearing Bolinas sign which brings more visitors than a sign would.

Progress report update—

Conversely, if you want something ignored, then issue a report. Marin County Open Spaces District has finally finished its draft update report on the Bolinas Lagoon Management Plan. Discussion of the draft was on the agenda of September's BLTAC meeting, but the grilling of the CSBL took longer than expected and only a dozen copies had been made available by the BLTAC. Libraries have them.

The withering fire has been good for CSBL. Publicity creates awareness, controversy creates interest, interest sparks action. If the common goal is the health of Bolinas Lagoon, then they will gain supporters. The CSBL has many local citizens on their board, including the publisher of theCoastal Post, and they've been very good about raising monies and influencing politicians. Is that a crime? Not if it's called campaign contributions.

The Lagoon Management Update report, draft edition, on the other hand, needs to be looked at carefully and subject to that same critical analysis. Comparing it with previous studies and reports issued on Bolinas Lagoon reveals a lack of implementation of most of the recommendations to decrease sedimentation.

A thumbnail history of the lagoon—

Marin County took possession of Bolinas Lagoon from the dissolved Bolinas Harbor District in 1969, after years of fierce fighting among locals about the future of the environmental resourse. Conservationists, beatniks and hippies fought to prevent numerous plans for the Lagoon's dredging and development.

One in 1966 included a restaurant, hotel, heliport and marina, all on Kent Island, plus a boatel and a motel, as well as another marina with boat repair and sales and a petroleum sales and service station along Highway One.

The harbor district's voters dissolved the district in 1969. The state granted it to Marin County with certain provisions. A condition of the tidelands grant was that the county must submit an acceptable plan to the state for the use and protection of the Lagoon tidelands "and issue a progress report five years later" showing that they had "substantially improved, restored, preserved or maintained (the lands) by the county without expense to the state" or "all right, title and interest shall cease and revert and rest in the state." This 1995 draft is the third update of the progress report.

The 1970 Fish and Game Department report, the Natural Resources of Bolinas Lagoon, calls for stopping the sidecasting of slide materials and other highway maintenance spoils into the lagoon. The 1995 Bolinas Lagoon Management Plan Update is still requesting that Marin County Public Works Department not sidecast its culvert cleanouts into the watershed, and instead "follow Caltrans practice of removing sediments entirely and transport them offsite." Ouch...that's no way to keep the lagoon in county hands, except that the state doesn't want the upkeep.

On the plus side for the county lagoon management, some implementation has been accomplished. A sedimentation basin on Pine Gulch Creek has been constructed and is dredged yearly. Exotic species have been removed from the lagoon's edge and grazing has been eliminated in the Pine Gulch Creek delta. The northeastern apex of the triangular-shaped lagoon is directly shaped by the creek.

Pine Gulch Creek or organic lettuce—

"Pine Gulch Creek is one of the major contributors of sediment into the lagoon...and the enlarging delta has to protect mud flats from wave action, allowing their gradual conversion to salt marsh. It has constricted the tidal channel to the west of Kent Island that formerly conveyed a portion of the ebb tide" which scours sediment out the channel into Bolinas Bay. "This is the main channel used by boaters going to Bolinas."

The lagoon was benefited when Caltrans was forced to mitigate for their hasty opening of Highway One, closed after damage from the '89 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The controversial and politically-charged decision allowed Caltrans to push over a million cubic yards into the National Marine Sanctuary, which they balanced by digging out the old Stinson dump and Seadrift Causeway in the southeastern end of the Bolinas Lagoon. Silt for silt.

The whole mitigation ended up costing $3.3 million, above and beyond the five million spent to open the highway.

More visitors to the Meadows—

There hasn't been much more progress in implementation, but the new update does have a lot of recommendations. They aren't prioritized other than by order, but the first one is to "develop Lagoon educational center at Audubon Canyon ranch and a research facility at the College of Marin Marine Biology Station in Bolinas."

It seems odd that increasing visitors should be given the first listing, even if education is the purpose. After all, what's the point of teaching people about lagoon ecology if it is dangerously close to becoming a meadow? Why get uptight about canoes disturbing seals, when the seals will soon follow the ebb tide out forever to find a new resting area to raid fisherman's catches from?

If sedimentation is the biggest problem for the lagoon, then why is it relegated to Recommendation No. 7 in the county's plan? Even after giving Open Space deputies the "training and authority to detain and give citations." At least they won't need boats to give out tickets.

The plans to increase visitors to Audubon Canyon, and Bolinas Wharf Road marine biology station will increase the biggest source of pollution in the lagoon, highway runoff of petroleum products, rubber dust, hydrocarbons, copper, asbestos and heavy metals from vehicle traffic. The toxic runoff from the lagoon road is totally ignored the in the report.

They are bound to run into trouble with the xenophobic, isolationist faction in Bolinas by proposing to increase tourists to its downtown area. Meanwhile, the channel into which the Marine biology dock is falling, will close rapidly unless erosion and excessive water diversion from farming practices in the Pine Gulch Creek watershed are curtailed.

The bigger picture—

The Lagoon formed about 8,000 years ago, "when rising ocean waters invaded the garben that forms the southern end of the San Andres Rift Valley and a sandspit formed across the mouth of the drowned valley separating the Lagoon from Bolinas Bay."

Until European settlers arrived in 1834, there "was a dynamic equilibrium in the Lagoon's depth and configuration." The common techniques of European settlers—logging, vegetation removal, cattle grazing, road building, and potato farming—rapidly changed this equilibrium after 1849, when San Francisco was built with Dogtown milled timber. The 1906 Olema earthquake restored 50 million cubic feet of tidal prism, but the sedimentation deposit has continued in this century, actually increasing in the '80s and '90s over the '60 and '70s.

This rate of sedimentation will mean the death of the lagoon in the next century. It may not be possible to do more than delay the end, unless rising sea levels and gigantic earthquakes do the job. If humans are going to intervene, it would be far cheaper and ecologically more beneficial to reduce the sedimentation into the lagoon now rather than dredge it out later.

If there is going to be dredging, it should be to remove artificially-filled area. The Old Bolinas Dump at Glass Beach, the filled wetlands east of the Old Seadrift Causeway, and the largest fill of all, the Seadrift inner spit which significantly narrowed the Lagoon's western channel when it was formed by dredging out their artificial lagoon, should be considered first.