The Coastal Post - October, 1997

Bolinas Lagoon Slowly DyingStudy Planned

BY STEPHEN SIMAC

Feathers were being ruffled around Bolinas Lagoon last month, and it wasn't egrets and herons. The Bolinas Lagoon's Technical Advisory Committee took no actions at their last meeting, of course, but the feisty audience prodded the comatose committee.

The members of BLTAC are volunteers and deserve credit just for serving on the Marin county board, yet many of the appointees have jobs which are dependent on maintaining the health of the lagoon. Some of them have served on the committee for 20 years, including Skip Schwartz, head of Audubon Canyon Ranch, where the meeting was held.

Newspaper stories from two decades ago echo the same concerns about the slow death of Bolinas Lagoon heard now. Very little action has ever been taken to remedy those concerns, but study after study has been conducted.

In 1975, committee members were gleeful that the Army Corps of Engineers had received $650,000 to conduct a study of the Lagoon. Now they're ecstatic that the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allocate $750,000 for another study by the Corps. We can only expect more bliss in 2019 if the lagoon isn't a meadow by then.

It's not that studies aren't useful, but they're bullshit when nothing is done to implement them. The only major project in the decades since the last study was the removal of the Seadrift causeway and old dump at the south end of the lagoon. That was undertaken by Caltrans as mitigation for dumping a million yards of silt into National Marine Sanctuary waters when they repaired Highway One's massive slide of 1990. The project was so expensive that if the coastal highway closed again, they'd leave it.

Four Dredging Sites

A Corps engineer was at the meeting to report on their reconnaissance study. This preliminary study determined that the lagoon warrants federal intervention but needs further study. Four areas of the lagoon were listed for possible dredging as well as a no action option.

The Pine Gulch creek delta was first on the list. The delta has quadrupled in 20 years for a variety of reasons. A forest of willows has reduced wind scouring action of the delta. Historic fresh water flow into the lagoon has been drastically reduced from channelizing Pine Gulch creek and intensive agricultural use of creek and ground waters. When farm pumps are running the flow becomes a trickle.

Million Straw Revolution

Questioning a farmer's wasteful use of water and destruction of wetlands is considered yellow journalism in West Marin. He's green and organic (not sustainable), he does so much for the community (especially Mexico's), he's losing money already, would you rather have subdivisions? This is all true, but the water is the issue.

There are several farms using Pine Gulch creek water but Warren Weber's takes the lion's share. He has legal rights to a common resource, which shows the folly of white men owning the water or the air, as Chief Seattle said.

Now that steelhead trout have been listed as endangered, all coastal creeks will come under increasing environmental restrictions. The best option for the creek users is to work together to ensure a balance between fisheries and farming or some federal agency may be doing it for them.

The corps has determined through aerial photos that land now farmed by Warren Weber has been diked, ditched, bermed and plowed since he bought it in the 1981. What was once marsh is now pumpkins. Weber was not at the meeting, no action was recommended by BLTAC, and none was suggested by the Corps.

Farmers are important and fines may drive them into real estate. They tend to be conservative, but switching to less destructive farming practices and crops will be driven by consumer demand just as organic farming was.

Hydroponic lettuce growers recycling their water can produce the same amount of organic greens at less cost on one-tenth the water of overhead spraying on plowed fields. Disturbing the earth means topsoil becomes lagoon silt. Fertilizers add nitrogen to the lagoon, so does septic.

It's a lake, not a lagoon

The second potential dredging option would open up the man-made Seadrift lagoon at the north and south end to increase tidal flow. This subdivision lake was dredged in the late '50s. The fill was dumped into the main channel of the lagoon and continues to erode. In a long chain of events, this sandy subdivision brewed visions of further dredging of the Lagoon with plans for a marina, heliport and hotels on Kent Island, and state plans for a four-lane highway over the hill to west Marin.

All of these plans were defeated by coastal residents who also stopped the logging of the ridge in 1969. The oversight of Bolinas Lagoon was handed over to Marin County and BLTAC in 1969.

A moratorium on building in Seadrift was enacted in the mid-'70s, but the back room dealings of then Marin County supervisors Peter Arrigoni with Robert Roumiguerre (owners of the sandspit), and Gary Giacomini, also on the California Coastal Commission, overturned it in 1981.

The buildout of ass-to-cheek mansions with failing septic systems was done with the collusion of the Stinson Beach Water District, which sluffed off the required site testing for 10 years. Meanwhile they built a Water Board chalet on filled wetlands and saddled all of Stinson with financial responsibility for Seadrift millionaires' crap.

Opening this inner lake would scour out the toxic bottom silt, laden with copper sulfates when Seadrift controlled algae bloom from fertilizer and septic runoff.

A new dock for mud fishing

The third proposed dredging site would be the north channel which runs between Kent Island and Bolinas. The rapid filling in of this channel in the last 10 years has many local fisherman worried that they will soon lose their mooring sites and access to the ocean.

Pine Gulch creek's meandering run once emptied into this north channel until it was bulldozed and bermed in the late '50s into the current channel. During floods it occasionally remembers its former runs. Easkoot creek at the Stinson end once flowed into the ocean.

The silt south of Dipsea Road which runs into the Seadrift suburbs is the fourth proposed dredging site. No mention is made of Highway One, the single largest source of pollution and siltation from its road bed, culverts and highway runoff. That's the no action option.

Pinnipeds and pinheads

There was a long discussion of the "seal gauntlet" on the highway side of the lagoon. The debate raged over whether they are eating any steelhead trout or coho salmon returning to hatch in Pine Gulch creek, or merely resting after sea-fishing all night long. A study on "pinniped evisceration of salmonid smolt" was cited by an environmental studier for the "just hanging out" side. The other side said the study was flawed. No one suggested walking over and gutting a couple of those puppies to see.

Affordable housing for egrets

These environmental studiers, wildlife preservationists and national park administrators rarely include humans living in their midst as part of the system. Recently an affordable housing site in Bolinas downtown was rejected because it was near an egret pre-nesting site. Destruction of housing raises real estate values for what's left. The park service is evicting long-time residents from homes along Bolinas lagoon built before it was parkland. Razing them will improve the environment no doubt. The loss of affordable housing wasn't on the Army Corps priority list.

Annie, a diabetic woman who loved knitting and gardening, died facing the lagoon at her home this summer. Her heart was broken, but it's nobody's fault. The other residents, mostly park employees using low-cost housing, will move into homes they own, displacing their tenants, or become renters in the Marin market.

Show me the money

The finale was a long tirade from the board about the Committee to Save Bolinas Lagoon. CSBL recently got Sacramento to declare Bolinas Lagoon a national treasure, and thus worthy of study monies from Washington. They didn't consult BLTAC. Just did it. God knows what they might do next. Rent a dredge.

The debate over whether CSBL was just a bunch of old cronies playing cards in Seadrift or a secretive cult with nefarious plans was amusing but inconclusive. There were concerns about whether the "national treasure" legal definition might entail the federal government taking 60% of all treasures. But that's the idea behind dredging. Now the CSBL is applying for an international treasure status from the UN. Could mean more black helicopters.

Kent Hacienda trailer park

All these titles mean shit. Either we study it 'til it becomes Bolinas Meadows trailer court or we float an internet rumor that there's gold in that thar silt. That's why it's a national treasure.

Sell it for a $1 a bucket, $5 a sandbag to tourists as long as they take it out of the watershed. Otherwise by 2019 the trailer court will have a Highway One entrance.

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