The Coastal Post - August, 1996

Bolinas Lagoon Being Studied To Extinction

BY JOAN REUTINGER

Every study of the lagoon says it is one of Marin's most "significant natural resources." The lagoon is approximately 1,100 acres. Triangular in shape, it is 3.5 miles long and no more than a mile across at its widest axis. For at least 7,700 years it remained undisturbed, just a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault.

Then in 1849, intensive logging started at Dogtown, and farms on the hillside near the lagoon continued to place sediment in the lagoon, so that now the lagoon is losing tidal prism at the rate of 1.4 million cubic feet a year.

Studies of the lagoon have abounded since 1854. It is amazing that the lagoon was studied at this early date in California's history. Marin is one of the 27 counties created by California's first Legislature on February 18, 1850. It was studied again in 1897, 1939, 1941, 1950, 1959, 1970, and 1995. These studies show that people have been worrying about the lagoon ever since the first Europeans came on the scene. It is interesting to note that in the 1854 map of the lagoon, Kent Island is divided into two parts.

So far no one has dealt with the sedimentation that is fast drying up the lagoon. No one has the money, except the government. Now someone is finally doing something about it. The Save the Bolinas Lagoon Committee, under John Jones of Seadrift, is trying to get governmental support, although some nasty people are saying Seadrift doesn't want the lagoon to dry up (the smell would be horrible) or be easily accessible from Bolinas.

At the present time the lagoon is managed by the Marin County Open Space District, but it is also part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. And it is under a welter of other institutions as well, including the Bolinas Lagoon Technical Advisory Committee, which includes people from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Audubon Canyon Ranch, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Gulf of the Farallons Marine Sanctuary, the College of Marin Marine Biology representative, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Point Reyes National Seashore, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bolinas Rod and Boat Club, two members each from the towns of Bolinas and Stinson Beach, and a member-at-large.

The two freshwater creeks that flow into the lagoon are Pine Gulch Creek in the northwest, and Easkoot Creek in the south. People are disturbed by the fact that the Pine Gulch Creek Delta is slowly increasing in size and that the land around Easkoot Creek seems to be drying up, so both ends of the lagoon need attention.

Sediment has been drying up the lagoon for a long time. The Bolinas Lagoon Management Plan Update quotes: "When vessels first began to sail into the port (of Bolinas) , a schooner drawing 10 feet of water could pass over the bar (outside the inlet) with ease at any stage of the tide; while now (c. 1880) the same draught of vessel can barely pass at the highest stage." (History of Marin)

The 1906 earthquake caused the rising of the floor of the lagoon. Jack Mason in The Last Stage for Bolinas notes writes that after the earthquake, the skipper of a San Francisco steamer docked at Wharf Road (in Bolinas) found that he couldn't turn around between Pepper Island (now known as Kent Island) and the sandspit as he normally would do.

There was a time when the lagoon faced development. The Bolinas Harbor District was founded in 1957. They finally created the Gilroy Plan in September, 1966, which, if carried out, would have had a horrendous effect. Kent Island was to be the centerpiece of the $22 million Gilroy Plan, which called for the island to be enlarged enough to contain a commercial fishing dock, a marina for 1,600 boats, motel-boatels, fueling facilities for the boats, a heliport, a shopping center and a bank! The two people who saved the lagoon from this destruction were Mrs. Thomas Kent of Kentfield, and Mrs. Frances Stewart of Bolinas.

Mrs. Kent got Nature Conservancy to buy Kent Island and Mrs. Stewart ran for the Board of the Harbor District, and once on it, she influenced from within. After an intensely violent campaign, the people of Stinson Beach and Bolinas voted the Harbor District down 313 to 266, dissolving it in 1969.

It should be remembered that the creation of the Seadrift artificial lagoon, and the forming of the land around it, also added to the destruction of the Bolinas Lagoon, so it is altogether appropriate that Seadrift should have a hand in preserving the lagoon.

Already the creatures which inhabit the lagoon are beginning to change because of increased sedimentation. Seven species of diving birds (eared and horned greves, canvasbacks, surf and white-winged scoters, American coots, and ruddy ducks) have been declining, while the population of harbor seals and pups are increasing. But once the various channels of the lagoon have dried up, the harbor seals are expected the decline.

Various methods to decrease the amount of sedimentation in the lagoon have previously been proposed, including dredging, but dredging is opposed by some people because of adverse effects on the marine bird and mammal concentrations.

The Bolinas Lagoon Management Plan Update states that it would take $440,000 to start remedial action on the lagoon, and then an elaborate EIR may be necessary. At any rate, people now realize that the lagoon must be saved; otherwise it will suffer the fate of all estuaries and coastal lagoons—"their death begins at birth."