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The fading of the Grand Canal

April 26, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • Charlie and Carson Geiling paddle through the Grand Canal that runs between Balboa Island on Tuesday. Residents are upset that the city stopped dredging the canal.
Charlie and Carson Geiling paddle through the Grand Canal… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

On Balboa Island, residents take pride in their quaint shops, rival banana stands and picturesque ferry service. But the watery channel that cuts through it, called the Grand Canal, doesn't quite fit that image.

Sure, the water still reaches high levels — perhaps even higher than in decades past, one resident says — but much of the sand lining the waterway has sloughed away, leaving a beach of what looks more like slimy mud than fluffy grains.

The canal's name hearkens back to the way things once were, when children scoured the canal's shores for seashells or paddled up and down the water on wooden boards, said resident Mike Buettell.

It used to be that one could simply step off the concrete seawall that lines the canal and land on the sand below, he said. Now, the drop down requires a dangerous jump or use of the stairs on someone's private dock.

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Still, Buettell believes the canal could be grand again. The city just needs to dredge it.

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Circa 1937

Buettell's great-grandfather paid $600 in 1937 for the Balboa Island lot where Buettell and his wife, Sue, both 67, now live for nine months of the year.

"These were just beach cottages in the old days," he said.

Signs warned not to dive off the Park Avenue bridge, which crosses the canal, but Buettell did so anyway when on trips with his parents to visit family. The water was deep enough.

Back then, in the 1950s through the '80s, the city dredged the canal periodically, sucking sediment from the middle of the canal and depositing it on the side, Buettell recalled.

That practice largely stopped after 1986, Buettell said, and though he has asked the city for assistance, little has changed.

"It's as if the city's forgotten the canal," he said.

The area is a narrow channel, and sand can only be stacked so high, said Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller.

He added that he hasn't found any evidence of regular dredging there in the past.

The city dredged the area in the 1990s, but Buettell called it "half-hearted."

The city also deposited sand from elsewhere, and that has since been washed away, he said.

More recently, Newport Beach hired a landscaping company to rake the green moss off the waterway's shores. But the canal has not been dredged as Buettell hoped.

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Meadowlands

On a recent Tuesday morning, Buettell walked over the Park Avenue bridge and gestured down toward the mass of green strands visible under the shallow water: "That's our issue," he said.

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