The Coastal Post - August, 1996

Bolinas And Seadrift Could Become One Happy Family

BY JOSH CHURCHMAN

Have you ever noticed that the Bolinas lagoon has more sand and mud in it than water? It is old news that the lagoon is filling in, but since the storm in December, 1995, it has accelerated at a dramatic rate. The north end of the lagoon was one a shallow basin, now it is just another mud flat. The channel that separates Kent Island from the town of Bolinas is disappearing, and soon Kent Island will be an island no more.

This is nature's way—lagoons fill in, and ecologies change. It was nature's way that man accelerated the natural siltation of the lagoon by diverting creeks, logging the hills and grazing cattle along the stream banks. It would also be "natural" for man to restore the lagoon by dredging out the accumulated silt in the back corners to allow more tidal flushing. But naturally man is now doing nothing but pushing paper and talking endlessly about the problem.

If you are one of those people who feel that the lagoon should be left alone, you should consider realistically what will change along with it. The first major change is coming very soon and that is the joining of Kent Island to the mainland of the town of Bolinas. When this happens all the birds and animals that previously enjoyed isolation for centuries will have to change their lifestyles or move on.

The next stage will probably be the periodic closing of the main channel to the ocean. This will, of course, result in the disappearance of all seals, because the seals need open water to feed. Then, in time, the whole ecology of the lagoon will have to make a transition from a saltwater ecosystem to a fresh water one. This could take many years of going from salt to fresh water and back again, and in that time as all the salt water organisms die it will probably stink, badly. Then again, when the ocean breaks open the mouth in a winter storm and the freshwater organisms die, again it will stink badly. This could go on for decades, but eventually the area will be beautiful again, but probably not in our lifetime.

If you are of a mind to restore the lagoon I would like to inform you of the stance the various agencies involved are taking. When you read this remember they are your representatives, paid by your tax dollars. The lagoon is "managed" by the County Open Space District, the Gulf of the Farallons National Marine Sanctuary Area, GGNRA, the National Park Services, Audubon Canyon Ranch, the Department of Fish and Game, Point Reyes National Seashore, USGS. The Army Corps of Engineers, the two towns of Bolinas and Stinson, and a host of other concerned citizens. Ed Uber of the Farallon Sanctuary has emerged as the "Boss" who has the final say about the mud, because the sanctuary owns the bottom of the ocean within the sanctuary. Uber is not in favor of dredging. He was quoted in the Chronicle as saying he was looking into other options, but he forgot to say what those "other options" were. I think his only other option is to do more studies and implement nothing and it looks like this how it will be. All of those agencies, our agencies, are aggressively doing nothing.

The Army Corp of Engineers was just awarded $500,000 as part of a two-part study on the lagoon. It sounds good, but the first $500,000 is for a study to determine if a real study should be done. I wonder how much mud could be removed by the working people in Bolinas and Stinson for $500,000.

Skip Schwartz of the Audubon Canyon Ranch says that there is no way to get around due process; Environmental Impact Studies must be filed before any action can be taken. If this is true, it is pathetic, because within that time the lagoon will be forever changed. How is it that a rip-rap wall was constructed along the length of Seadrift beach overnight without studies or EIRs, and the lagoon can't be touched? Who can say conclusively that the rip-rap didn't accelerate the siltation of the lagoon by altering the sand transport along Stinson Beach? Should another study be done about that? I think there have been enough studies; the solution is obvious—just increase the number of gallons of water that come in and go out of the lagoon on a tidal cycle, "tidal prism," and the lagoon will be healthy again. Then the various agencies can move on to other important issues.

As it stands now, so much money and time will be spent on the studies and going over the studies to see what should be done, that another study will be needed because so much would have changed in the meantime.

Many of the agencies stand to get a lot of money for these studies, so naturally they are all in favor of more. But is this what we, the people who pay for the studies, want? We will also have to pay the price of watching the lagoon die while we wait.

Why not let these agencies and your representatives know how you feel? I personally feel powerless against the wall of bureaucrats. The only thing I could think to do was to write about my frustration. If you care about the lagoon, do something now because if you are waiting for "them" to do it, it will be a long wait.

In a final note of irony the lagoon's problems could have been the responsibility of California Boating and Waterways if the proposed Harbor District had come into being. Back in the early '70s, there was another one of those town battles about the Harbor District, that wanted to make Bolinas a safe, small boat harbor. The project lost by a narrow margin and left some hard feelings. Most people who were against the project feared that the sensitive lagoon environment would be forever changed. And now, 20 years later, that sensitive environment is in fact changing in another very negative way, and the Harbor District could have saved it because California Boating would have been obligated to keep the lagoon open.

I think it would be great if some of those people who fought so hard to save the lagoon then would reappear to fight for her again because she really needs the Knights in shining armor to come to her defense against this board of sleeping bureaucratic dragons that guard her day and night.