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Natural Perspectives: Highs and lows at Bolsa Chica

August 31, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Pocket Marsh at Bolsa Chica is an example of a muted tidal wetland. It was restored to partial tidal flushing as part of the 2006 restoration project. While it has more birds per acre than the fullly tidal basin, it has far fewer fish species and is considered a lower quality restoration overall compared to the full tidal basin.
Pocket Marsh at Bolsa Chica is an example of a muted tidal… (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

Vic and I attended the third Bolsa Chica Science Symposium this past Saturday, where nine scientists presented the results of their research and monitoring programs conducted at Bolsa Chica. Actually, Vic did more than attend. He was the moderator. About 80 people were in attendance.

Bob Hoffman of the National Marine Fisheries Service led off with a review of the process and costs of the 2006 restoration project that brought ocean water back to the former oil fields. He showed a photo of himself taken in 1976, when he began work at Bolsa Chica. At that time, he was told by his boss that he would retire on the Bolsa Chica project. He laughed at the idea at the time. But he'll be retiring this December and is still working on Bolsa Chica.

Because the last major dry segment won't be opened to full tidal flushing until the oil is all pumped out, the final restoration step is still many years in the future. Meanwhile, that area provides a salt panne and seasonal ponds where birds can rest, feed and even nest. The full tidal basin was created larger than needed so that there would be enough flow to serve that area when the oil wells are removed.

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Hoffman pointed out that monitoring has shown that there are far more fish species utilizing the full tidal basin than the muted tidal cells, showing once again the wisdom of restoring the Bolsa Chica to a mainly full tidal versus an all-muted tidal system.

But Hoffman also had some bad news. The total project cost was $147 million, with $15 million set aside as an operations and maintenance endowment. But because cleanup of contaminants during the restoration process cost more than anticipated and because endowments earn very little interest these days, the fund has dipped dangerously low.

The full tidal basin needs to be dredged every two to three years because sand builds up at the entrance. In a system where streams flow into an estuary, storms will flush out the sand during years of heavy rains. But the full tidal basin was designed not to accept water from the Wintersburg Flood Control Channel. That water is urban runoff; no one wanted it to empty into the ocean at the clean Bolsa Chica State Beach. The alternative is periodic dredging.

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