SUNDAY STORY:Mud wrestling

Dredging is a constant battle in Newport Beach to keep the bay and harbor from becoming a giant mudflat.

June 11, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

When John Garrison wants to take out his sailboat, he first must ask one question: Is the tide high enough?

Garrison's 50-foot sailboat drafts nine feet, which means he needs the water to be at least that deep to keep from hitting bottom. He's dredged under the dock at his Harbor Island home, but sometimes he can't take the boat much farther.

"In front of my house, I have to wait until there's a three-foot high tide until I can go out of the channel," he said. "A lot of people that don't know the bay, like people from out of town, they run aground."


The problem isn't just Garrison's — it's all around the harbor. The detritus of 70 years of runoff and erosion — an estimated 900,000 cubic yards of silt — has filled in the channels and drifted under docks until boaters can hardly get around.

The answer is dredging. With the major dredging project in the Upper Newport Bay well underway, Newport Beach city officials want to focus next on the lower bay, which some worry is close to being nonfunctional.

"It's something boaters, environmentalists and residents all want," City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said. "People are really concerned about it being safe and navigable."

City officials have drawn up a plan to dredge the lower bay, and they're in talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the $4.1 million needed to get the work started. But one thing stands in the way: some tiny crustaceans called amphipods.

For Newport Beach, dredging is essentially a constant battle to keep the bay and harbor from becoming a giant mudflat and, eventually, a meadow.

The harbor was created in its current form in about 1919. While there has been dredging under individual docks and in a few select spots, the only comprehensive dredging since the harbor was built was in the 1930s, according to city data.

The main channel was designed to be 20 feet deep, and in some places it now measures 10 feet, said Seymour Beek, a member of the city's harbor commission.

"The effect is that some boats are going aground in places where they shouldn't be going aground because a lot of the bay is silted up," Beek said. "People have to plan ahead when they're going to move their boats — they can't move them certain places in the bay at low tide."

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