More on the suit against State Parks over Pescadero Marsh

By on Fri, November 12, 2010

Julia Scott has an article in the Mercury News with more background on why State Parks is being sued over its management of Pescadero Marsh:

An unknown number of juvenile steelhead suffocate each year in the brackish waters of the marsh when rains force open the sandbar at the mouth of the lagoon and the ocean flows in like a fire hose, mixing layers of freshwater and saltwater. Scientists believe this mixing stirs up toxic hydrogen sulfide and robs the water of oxygen the fish require to breathe.

Time is of the essence for one of the last steelhead runs in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The marsh also hosts the largest population of threatened California red-legged frogs in the state, and the Pescadero group asserts that increasing salinity levels have substantially hurt the frog population as well as the endangered San Francisco garter snake and the tidewater goby. [...]

Everyone acknowledges something went wrong in the 1990s, when State Parks, which owns the marsh, re-engineered the water flow with levees, culverts and water gates. Many of these fixes quickly became defective but were left in place.

Juvenile steelhead grow up feeding in the marsh estuary before going out to sea when the sandbar breaks. Most seasonal lagoons have broken open by now, but this sandbar forms in the fall and remains unbroken until winter. Aquatic plants begin to decompose, which affects dissolved oxygen levels in the water. In 1995, locals witnessed the first steelhead die-off. [...}

Internal correspondence obtained by the legal team through the Freedom of Information Act shows that the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Department of Fish and Game officials agree that they would like to restore Pescadero Marsh to a freshwater lagoon system, but they are stymied by a difference of opinion with State Parks, which wants to avoid re-engineering the marsh.