The Coastal Post - June, 1998

Life Or Death For The Bolinas Lagoon

By Josh Churchman

The Bolinas Lagoon is at a turning point in its evolution. For thousands of years it was a self-sustaining lagoon. This means it's depth remained constant. In the past 100 years, however, the lagoon has filled with silt to the extent that it may soon close off from the sea and cease to be a lagoon. It may then become a marsh or meadow in another 100 years.

Why this happened is well known, another one of man's interventions with nature. But why is not the question for today. The real question is, do we let it die or do we try to save it as a lagoon? I personally vote for keeping it a lagoon or estuary over the option of watching all the salt-water organisms die when the ocean flow stops.

If we all vote to keep it a lagoon, then the next question is, how? To restore the lagoon to its original state would mean the removal of millions of yards of mud, removing the community of Seadrift, and re-routing two streams back to their original watercourses. Not a realistic goal in this day and age. But returning the lagoon to a self-sustaining state may not be unrealistic, and this is the apparent goal of the Army Corps in their current study on the lagoon. The Army Corps has begun a new wave of effort in the realm of environmental restoration and the Bolinas lagoon is one of their first projects.

A million-plus dollars will be spent in the next two years to study the lagoon with hydrologic models done at the Bay Model near Sausalito. A dozen or more agencies all must be satisfied and public concerns will abound. The lagoon's problem will be deemed very complex and more intensive studies will be asked for. But the very simple reality exists that if the studies take too long, they will be rendered useless by the lagoon closing off from the sea.

In a simplistic overview, the Bolinas lagoon's problem is something called "tidal prism." Basically, tidal prism is the number of gallons that go in or out of a lagoon on a given tidal cycle. Or how much water will it hold. The greater the tidal prism, the greater the circulation or flushing. The greater the flushing, the better for removing silt in the winter flooding. As the tidal prism decreases, the silt all settles out in the lagoon rather than being carried out to sea. Similar to putting too many bricks in your toilet trying to save water-one too many bricks and nothing will flush.

I attended the public meeting held by the Army Corps and I was stunned by the stance some of our local groups are taking on this issue.

The Sierra Club seems to have so many concerns that one might get the idea they want the lagoon to fill in and die. The Audubon Society is non-committal, the park service and GGNRA have all but said they think it is God's plan to let the Bolinas lagoon go the way of the Indians, and the NOAA, Farallon Sanctuary, which includes the lagoon, is being a hindrance more than a help. Why? All these agencies are supposed to represent the public interest, but I know for a fact they do not represent mine. All the studies mean more money and this money seems to be the driving force more than concern for the life of a lagoon.

Think about it, the problem is simple: do nothing the lagoon dies, do something and all the birds, seals, fish and ghost shrimp will not join the ranks of the homeless. Write letters to some of your favorite groups or agencies and tell them how you feel; ask them where they stand on this life-and-death situation. It would be a marvelous event to see all the concerned groups set their differences aside and work for something together. There have been plenty of studies done already, we should stop spending money pushing paper around and instead move some mud.

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