Posted on March 9, 2017
By Kaitlyn Bartley, Half Moon Bay Review
San Mateo County Resource Conservation District staff is working feverishly to complete a grant proposal that may prove to be Pescadero’s ticket out of flooding that has killed endangered fish and cut access to the town each winter.
Initially, the RCD planned to submit a grant proposal in June that would have funded only designs for dredging in the Pescadero Marsh, where years of inaction have resulted in an ecological disaster for threatened and endangered coho salmon, steelhead trout, and other species.
But in January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released information on its 2017 Coastal Resilience Grants, which would pay for both the design and implementation of an approved proposal. The grant program is intended for work that strengthens coastal communities and restores habitat. It’s a perfect fit for the work that the Pescadero Marsh needs, according to RCD Executive Director Kellyx Nelson.
There was one problem, though: The deadline to submit that grant proposal is March 15, not June, forcing RCD staff to work on a truncated timeline.
“We’re working around the clock to develop these designs,” said RCD Executive Director Kellyx Nelson, whose next two weekends are also blocked off to finalize the application and write the grant.
The NOAA grants fund “projects that build resilience, including activities that protect life and property, safeguard people and infrastructure, strengthen the economy or conserve and restore coastal and marine resources,” the agency’s website reads. Typical award amounts range between $250,000 to $1 million for projects that last up to 36 months.
To qualify for the grant, Nelson and her staff, along with consulting engineers and California State Parks, are racing to develop the dredging designs. But they are proceeding cautiously because not all dredging designs are created equal.
“There are some dredging scenarios that might be helpful for the fish that would have little to no benefit for minimizing flooding,” said Nelson. “And there are some dredge designs that would help with the flooding, but would be very harmful for the fish.” Factors like those must be held in delicate balance.
In 2014, Cbec Inc. engineers completed a report on flooding solutions in Pescadero. That report identified dredging the channels as a concept but did not provide concrete designs.
“This is taking that to the next step,” Nelson said. The engineering firm is now developing the designs for the grant because “we wanted continuity with our previous work, for cost benefit and for quality.”
In addition, engineers have to take into account how quickly the dredged channels would refill.
“Depending on the length, depth, shape and alignment of the channel, it could fill back in at different rates,” said Nelson. Factors like that would determine how often the channels must be maintained in the future. “The best solution is one that fills in really slowly, and even better is a dredge design that could kickstart a self-scouring scenario,” in which the channel helps to clean itself.
Design details also determine how many permits are required to approve any work in the marsh. If a project is designed largely as an environmental restoration project, it can often require fewer permits than if it is designed as a public infrastructure project to mitigate the impact of flooding on humans.
“Projects that are largely about environmental restoration, for example, may not require mitigation. They are considered self-mitigating,” Nelson said.
Mitigation, or offsetting any potential environmental damage caused by the work, can often add significant costs and complexity to projects. “People often think just about the project itself, but the project is itself plus mitigation,” Nelson said.
Since California State Parks owns the land, RCD is working on behalf of the state agency to submit the grant and could even do the work on its behalf. “State Parks has been at the table as a solid partner for all of this,” Nelson said.
State Parks says it’s fully committed to the grant proposal, as well.
“I’m optimistic since the Cbec report came out, with integrated approaches to enhanced ecological health in the marsh,” said Chris Spohrer, who took on the permanent role of Santa Cruz District superintendent of State Parks in December. “There are multiple partners now working together on different pieces to the solution.” He pointed to reducing sediment in the upper watershed, the floodplain reconnection project on Peninsula Open Space Trust property, and the county’s feasibility study for a causeway.
“And the piece that State Parks is responsible for is within the marsh, so removing the plug of sediment on the Butano side to reconnect the Butano channel — that’s where I’m focusing my energy right now,” Spohrer said.
“I know it’s been a long time coming, but we have a lot of good technical info we can use to design and build so we can be successful in the grant process,” he said. “I think it’s really only because there’s such a cooperative effort in the watershed now that it’s the right time. I plan to be a part of that in finding the part that State Parks can play in the lower part of the watershed.”
Spohrer also said his agency is looking for ways it can match funds or staff time to mitigate the project’s cost.
“It’s likely to be a very expensive project, and we’ll be looking for match money wherever we can find it. But yes, State Parks will definitely be contributing whatever we can,” he said. Spohrer is expected to attend the Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council meeting in March to hear from locals and share his vision for the marsh.
Even with the full approval of State Parks and NOAA, the proposed designs would still have to be permitted by the appropriate agencies. If the RCD’s grant is approved, they would likely receive notification in the fall. “If we are awarded the funds and if permitting encounters no obstacles at all, the earliest point we could do a dredge would be the fall of 2018,” Nelson said.
Source: Half Moon Bay Review