Bolsa Chica Restoration Update

Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported on the status of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Restoration project. In brief, over a hundred years ago the Bolsa Chica Gun Club isolated the wetlands from the ocean when they built dikes to create duck ponds. (Back in those days gun clubs were for hunting — and in the OC, that often meant duck hunting.) A hundred years and $147 million later, the restoration of the wetlands is nearing completion. The next milestone is the clearing of the sand blocking the inlet between the wetlands and the Pacific. Therein lies the rub for many of us who surf at Bolsa Chica. Don’t get me wrong — all of the people I’ve spoken to look forward to the restoration of the wetlands — and are thankful that the pile drivers at the inlet have finally fallen silent. The concern is in what will happen when the inlet is opened and, as one fellow put it, “a hundred years of accumulated bird shit will wash into the ocean — right where I surf.”

Jack Fancher, the “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in charge of the project” offered the following assurances: “Our conclusion is that the restored wetland alternative that we have implemented will not increase the frequency of beach health warnings at Bolsa Chica State Beach.”

Maybe I’ve become too jaded, but I noticed he doesn’t claim that pollution levels will not increase at the beach — only that it won’t increase enough to “increase the frequency of beach health warnings.” Right now Bolsa Chica has some of the best water quality in Southern California because there are no nearby storm drains or other sources of runoff — so the water quality has room to degrade before triggering health warnings. Other are as concerned (skeptical?) as I am — the Surfrider Foundation is planning a daily sampling program with results posted on their website.

My advice: watch the Surfrider website and its site begining in late August when the inlet will be opened. Or, find out where Jack Fancher and his kids are surfing. If, however, you just can’t get beyond the mental image of 100 years of accumulated duck shit washing around you on your board, you may want to find another spot to surf until the “coast is clear.”

2 Comments so far

  1. Charlie (unregistered) on August 10th, 2006 @ 10:35 am

    Over the short run pollution may slightly increase but in the long run, wetlands have been strongly linked with decreases in pollution – a natural wetland acts like a sponge, absorbing pollution, floodwaters, etc. And the stormwater has to find the ocean no matter what… this way some of it will get a filtering rather than being discharged from a concrete ditch directly into the sea

  2. Miles (unregistered) on August 10th, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

    In general, I think you’re correct — natural wetlands generally help downstream water quality. It might be true at Bolsa Chica if the comparison were between stormwater / drainage going directly into the ocean vs. going into the wetlands first — but that’s not the situation. Currently, almost all of the stormwater / drainage that might dump off Bolsa Chica enters the wetlands and drains a couple of miles north via Huntington Harbor. So the wetlands are already providing their benefits — and any lingering pollution is further diluted by the ocean before it drifts to Bolsa. (And the drift within 100 yards of the beach is northward more often than not.)
    Soon it will dump right into the Bolsa Chica surf. I’m hoping that over the long term the impact will be minimal, but I’m not optimistic in the short term.
    Oh, did I mention the 100 years of bird shit?

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