Thursday, March 10, 2005

Muddy Waters, Muddy Thinking

A landmark cypress tree on Scenic Road is perilously close to falling into the Carmel River. So is a section of Scenic Road.

 

Because...

 

The river has eroded the bluffs right up to the edge of Scenic Road

 

Because...

 

The river was breached in an unusual way this year. Instead of cutting straight through the beach, they cut a diagonal trench to the northwest

 

Because...

 

There has been an ongoing dispute between Monterey County, residents near the Carmel River lagoon, and the Department of Fish and Game

 

Because...

 

The Fish and Game biologists say the steelhead need more time to adjust to the semi-saline lagoon before being washed out to the fully saline ocean.

 

So...

 

They have ordered that the lagoon not be breached until nearby homes are perilously close to flooding

 

Which...

 

Upsets the neighbors

 

So...

 

They breached the river at an angle to somehow minimize the trauma for the fish.

 

So...

 

The river did what it does naturally, and carried sand out to the ocean.

 

Then...

 

The ocean puts it back on the beach, in a different place, which diverts the path of the river towards the bluff, to undermine the tree and road.

 

Which...

 

Ironically, is the same bluff that was rebuilt with sand last year to repair erosion caused by the river which had turned northward

 

Which...

 

Makes me wonder what goes through their minds.

 

One winter, several years ago, the river naturally migrated towards the north, and did pretty much what it is doing now. It became clear that if allowed to continue, it would undermine Scenic Road, so the bulldozers came back and redirected the river to the south end of the beach. That year they stopped the erosion long before it could damage anything important.

 

Having witnessed that year’s event, I knew the authorities were asking for trouble when they deliberately breached the river towards the north. I figured either they were taking a big risk, or they knew something I didn’t about beach erosion.

 

They were taking a big risk. I’m no expert on beach erosion, but it is now evident that I knew a whole lot more than they did. If diagonal breaching was necessary, it would have made a lot more sense to do it southward where there is nothing to threaten, rather than northward.

 

If local news reports are accurate, Fish and Game is also making an assumption that the river, if it breached naturally, wouldn’t wash the fish out to sea as fast as a man-made breach.

 

I sincerely doubt that. I’ve seen the river breached almost naturally, and it happens very fast.

 

When I say “almost naturally” we were there one day when the river was very, very close to breaking through. Some fellow used his hands to cut a short trench, just a few inches wide and deep and a few feet long, to let the water flow across the highest part of the sand between the lagoon and the ocean. Within five minutes the trench was about a foot wide, and not quite as deep.

 

Thirty minutes later, from the force of erosion alone, the channel had grown to six feet deep and over ten feet wide. It was a raging torrent that threatened to swallow up anyone who got too close. The erosion was happening so fast that it was causing sections of the beach to shift under us several feet from the channel’s edge. We left because we did not feel safe there. That is what would happen naturally. It would burst through very fast, not in the gradual trickle that Fish and Game claims would take the fish out gently.

 

I support wildlife preservation, and habitat enhancements. I’ve even been accused by wing-nuts of being an eco-freak. But intentionally risking millions of dollars in damage to a public road, by diverting a river nearer to it, does not come across as sound policy. Perhaps there is some bit of ecological knowledge that is eluding me in this matter, but so far I haven’t seen any evidence that Fish and Game people really know what they’re doing.

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