Crucial Dredging at Bolsa Chica Wetlands Could Run Out of Money

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Posted May 17, 2018

The ocean inlet to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, once again being dredged to allow the tidal flushing vital to the abundant wildlife in the area, could run dry of funds necessary for the near-annual pumping operation required to maintain the ecosystem.

Money earmarked for dredging at the state reserve in Huntington Beach will be exhausted by 2020.

When the inlet was opened in 2006 for the first time in more than a century, a trust fund was established to pay for periodic dredging. But sand migrating along the coast filled in the inlet, located at the south end of the wetlands, more rapidly than expected. The trust fund’s interest earnings have not been able to keep up.

“The larger problem is that fund returns have been lower than anticipated due to the extremely low-interest … of the past decade,” said reserve manager Kelly O’Reilly of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This is a problem facing restoration projects nationwide.”

Wetland hunters

To facilitate hunting conditions, a duck-hunting club sealed off the wetlands from the ocean in 1899 and it remained that way until 2006, when a $148 million project to purchase and restore the 600-acre wetland area was completed.

It was funded by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as mitigation for port expansions that destroyed marine habitat.

The twice-daily tidal flood of seawater into the wetlands’ basin stimulated the growth of salt-marsh plants and has resulted in an influx of wildlife unseen in the area since the 19th century. Because Pacific Coast Highway prevents restoration to its original natural state, dredging is required.

Following completion of the inlet, the first dredging occurred in 2009. The current dredging is a three-month process, will cost about $1.2 million and will be the sixth time the operation has been performed. The sand, about 68,000 cubic meters, is pumped onto the state beach just south of the inlet.

Future funding

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said possibilities are being explored for funding beyond June 2020.

One possibility is the Poseidon company, which has proposed dredging the channel regularly as mitigation for a desalination plant it wants to build adjacent to the AES power plant in Huntington Beach. However, the plant still has two key permits to obtain and several other obstacles to clear, with construction of the facility less than certain.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy would like any mitigation funds from the desalter to be used to maintain the inlet, but has stopped short of endorsing the Poseidon plant.

“We don’t have a position on whether desalination is good or bad,” said Ed Mountford, chairman of the conservancy. “But if there is mitigation associated with Poseidon, we believe it should be done at Bolsa Chica.”

Source: The Orange County Register