Solutions for Tidal Maintenance Costs
By Shirley Dettoff

I don’t think that the Amigos will ever forget that wonderful morning in August, 2006 when we watched as the ocean waters flowed into the Bolsa Chica Wetland. This meant health and life were brought back to the degraded wetland. When we started our efforts to save the Bolsa Chica, the only ocean waters flowed in through Huntington Harbour, a trip lasting over 28 days. The water never got farther than the muted tidal inner bay. As of that momentous day 13 years ago we could be assured that an additional 500+ acres of wetland would again flourish, and that all our efforts over 40+ years would be successful. We stood on the new bridge, first in the dark, and then as the sun started to rise, the bull dozers removed the last of the sand blocking the water and then the flow began with cheers from the Amigos. And, of course, the opening of the champagne bottles and a never to be forgotten speech by Vic Leipzig.

Some thought that our job was now done, but we knew that we must remain vigilant. Over 300 acres of wetlands have yet to be restored, and that will not happen until the oil operations come to an end. We also knew that there could be future problems with a restoration project this size. We are now facing one of those problems and Amigos are watching it closely, working with the Bolsa Chica Steering Committee to do all we can to address the issue.

When the wetlands were acquired by the State, part of the agreement was that funding to keep the ocean inlet open for the future was a part of the agreement. Sadly we faced a nation-wide recession in 2008-10 and the original interest on the fund was much lower than previously anticipated. Also, dredging of the inlet had to be done on a yearly basis which was not a part of the original plan, and of course costs kept going up. We are now faced with the issue of who will pay for keeping the tidal inlet dredged and open. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust has engaged in studies to find alternatives to costly annual dredging, but the results (and their costs) have not yet been determined.

There are currently two options. First, the State of California, the owners of the property. But California is faced with many issues on the environmental agenda. Many State facilities are in need of repair, other environmental issues are pressuring legislators for funding. We would have to fight for every dollar and do this every budget year.

The second option is the proposed mitigation for a major Huntington Beach project called Poseidon. This project is a desalinization facility to be built at the site of the AES plant. Poseidon is proposing, as mitigation for their project, that all mitigation be done at Bolsa Chica. They have put forward a plan, which, if the Poseidon project is approved by all necessary agencies, would keep the tidal inlet open for the life of their project. Poseidon has gone through many of the steps needed for approval and has two more to go through. Remaining is approval by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board and then the California Coastal Commission. The Amigos de Bolsa Chica has not taken any position on the Poseidon project itself, but we do support that any mitigation be done at Bolsa Chica if the Coastal Commission approves the project. This would ensure that for many, many years we could be confident that the wetlands would be healthy.

Just imagine what a degraded wetland would mean to our community. I think that the word “swamp” might be appropriate. Many areas would have reduced tidal circulation, deterring the birds and fish that are now abundant, and inviting certain insects, mainly mosquitos, which could cause health issues. Losing the healthy tidal water that provides nurseries for fish would dramatically impact the fishing industry. The site would no longer be attractive to visitors which is a great source of revenue for our City. Hundreds of school children visit the wetlands every year. Bolsa Chica is an outdoor laboratory, and they are learning about the importance of a healthy wetland and its connection to a healthy ocean. We can’t lose any part of this that we worked so hard to preserve from development and undergo restoration. The Amigos will continue to be vigilant, protective, and we will always be the voice of truth based on the best available science.