The Coastal Post - January, 1997

Bolinas Lagoon, Restoration Or Boondoggle?

BY JOSH CHURCHMAN

"Boondoggle: a project funded by the government that is of no real value to the community." - Websters Dictionary

It doesn't take an expert in hydrology to tell us that the Bolinas lagoon is filling in. Even people who have only lived here a few years have noticed a significant change. The question isn't if the lagoon will close off from the ocean, it is when. The experts give it from one to 50 years. Within this time frame the lagoon has to overcome two major problems to remain a salt-water lagoon.

When is not a pretty picture. Not only is a beautiful lagoon a rare gem in California these days, but the transition from a salt-water environment to a fresh-water one could take another 10 years. During this period where salt-water creatures die and fresh-water ones take hold, the lagoon will not seem so beautiful.

The solution to the first problem is relatively simple. The lagoon only needs its tidal prism increased. Similar to restricted arteries in the heart, the lagoon no longer has enough water going in and out on a tidal cycle to flush itself out.

How to increase this tidal prism is a subject upon which everyone seems to have an opinion. I have heard suggestions like blowing holes in key places with dynamite, digging the channel to the ocean much deeper, only digging out the channels that meander back into the lagoon, disturb the mud at outgoing tide and let the ocean take it away, etc., and all of these ideas would work to some degree.

The point most people miss is the one about tidal prism. The experts I have talked to all agree that the more gallons of ocean water you can force into the lagoon on any given tide cycle, the better. Everywhere there is a mud flat sticking out at a medium tide is tidal prism the lagoon doesn't have. That mud should be water. Deep holes and deep channels won't help as much as increasing the volume of water going in and out. The channels will deepen themselves if the theory proves true.

The second problem is the tougher one, the potential boondoggle. The Bolinas Lagoon was studied in '66, '77 and '88, comparisons of the three studies were done a few years ago, and after millions of dollars and years of hard work, it was decided that in fact, the lagoon was filling in. I could have told them that for free.

The way it stands now is the Army Corps just received $100,000 to do a reconnaissance study to determine if a real study is needed. How this first 100k is to be spent is a topic for another column, but the real study, complete with EIRs and EISs, started in at bids of around $800,000, then somehow it went up to $1,500,000. Then just last week it went up to $2,500,000. This doesn't reflect absurdity, it defines it! That much money could pay an entire staff of scientists for several years. In reality, it will only buy us more paperwork and will not remove one grain of sand from the lagoon.

Local citizens formed a group called The Committee To Save the Bolinas Lagoon, and they are the ones who have lobbied to get the project this far. They have raised and spent $300,000 so far, and it looks like it might take that much again to just get the study done.

Common sense says that we should start removing mud today. Why wait for the situation to get worse? Why not start small and work on some of the most critical areas now while the big project works itself out? It could be 10 years before these studies are completed. The lagoon might be closed off by then.

In the old days, before the Golden Gate of Agencies, the local residents might have done whatever it took to fix the problem and keep the lagoon open. But today it is against the law to disturb tidelands, even if the tidelands might not be there much longer if something isn't done soon.

Please write your local representatives urging them to help this lagoon restoration project along. A lagoon is a terrible thing to waste.