What we talk about when we talk about Pescadero Marsh and Lagoon


By on Mon, February 25, 2013

The community of Pescadero asked California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to allow local members to participate in DPR’s Pescadero Marsh and Lagoon Science Panel. Panelists, selected by DPR, are tasked to evaluate the physical and biological characteristics of the Pescadero system and similar estuarine systems and to include in that evaluation the review of existing literature and data in order to draw conclusions about how the lagoon and marsh is functioning.

No local member has been invited to participate in DPR’s Science Panel, nor was Dr. Jerry Smith who has the most experience on this subject, and who has published many studies for DPR, including his ten recommendations listed in a 1996 DPR report.  Instead, a public meeting to introduce DPR’s Science Panel, and to allow public comment, is scheduled for Wednesday, February 27th, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m, in Half Moon Bay at the Train Depot on Higgins Canyon Road.

Pescadero requests DPR to fix the issues of Pescadero Marsh:  Fish Die-off (aka: Fish Kill), repair DPR-altered levees impairing water flow, and removal of rusted, inoperable DPR-installed tidal gates. 

This request is separate from the community’s request to fix the annual flooding of Pescadero Creek Road at the bridge crossing Butano Creek.

The DPR press release states, “The science panel will not address the community’s flooding issues.  Questions related to flooding should be directed to local flood control agencies.”

Pescadero-Butano Watershed – Agency Jurisdiction

Pescadero’s lagoon and marsh ecosystem lies within Pescadero State Beach and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve which are managed by DPR.  The lagoon and marsh are separated from the beach by Highway 1, which is a State Route managed by Caltrans. Pescadero Creek Bridge allows the highway to cross over the creek mouth.  A sandbar forms every year at the creek mouth, as is a normal occurrence at creek mouths each summer, but Pescadero’s sandbar is manually breached by DPR representatives when nature is unable to do so (an activity funded this past year by two local community groups: C.A.S.E. and Native Sons).

Pescadero Creek Road and its Pescadero Creek Road Bridge border the south end of the marsh, allowing passage over Butano Creek.  The County road and bridge are managed by San Mateo County’s Department of Public Works and Parks (DPWP). 

Pescadero-Butano Watershed is in Region 2 of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.  This watershed is the largest coastal watershed between the Golden Gate and the San Lorenzo River.  Pescadero and Butano Creeks flow northwestward from their headwaters near Skyline Boulevard and Highway 9 through a mix of publicly owned land (California State Parks, San Mateo County Parks) and privately owned property.  Across this agency puzzle, watches the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, as contributors and stakeholders, but not as decision makers.

Butano Creek - Flood Control

At the December 2012 San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Don Horsley received the Board’s approval to transfer $392,500 from a Reserve account to the DPWP for specific projects addressing the flooding of Pescadero Creek Road.  The money is to cover the following goals: 1) Short Term, provide safety during flooding: signage, lighting, and County email/text notifications, 2) Mid Term, study dredging potential for alleviating the flooding of Butano Creek at the County-maintained bridge, and 3) Long Term, San Mateo County Resource Conservation District to liaise agencies to arrive at a holistic solution.

Pescadero Estuarine Science – Holistic and Who-listic Solutions

Talking points for attendees at Wednesday’s public meeting concern physical characteristics believed to impact the marsh and lagoon biology:

a. Channelization to Butano Creek to allow steelhead to reach their spawning grounds.
b. Restore levee breaks, to mitigate yearly fish kills.
c. Repair or eliminate north marsh gates to restore bird, frog and snake habitat.
d. Continue to open the sandbar, as necessary, to prevent fish kills until restoration project is complete.
e Close the levee breach at the southern steel footbridge so that anoxic material can no longer find its way into the water column from the borrow ditch
f. Re-establish the channel depth from the Butano at the Pescadero Creek Road bridge to the Butano’s mouth.
g. If the highway is eventually elevated or realigned in a way that no longer rigidly fixes the location of the mouth of the estuary, how would that affect the panel’s recommendations?
h. How will the panel encompass the flooding issue to see what restoration efforts DPR can undertake to allow for water flow through the marsh and out the creek mouth?
i. How will the panel include both creeks’ hydrology in its evaluation of the marsh and lagoon?

To ensure inclusion in the science panel’s review of existing literature and data, ask the science panel for its bibliography.  The community requests that the past 40 years of reports and studies be reviewed, before yet another study is considered.

In a March 2000 letter sent to then-Supervisor Rich Gordon from Herb Hamor, then-Chair of Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council, Mr. Hamor wrote, “While it is impractical to restore the area to the condition shown in the earliest accurate mapping of 1854 Coast Survey Map, we can approximate the natural hydrology based on the information provided by this map, as well as the vast information offered by early aerial photographs and other completed studies, including the DPR-sponsored 1990 Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve hydrological Enhancement Plan, the County’s 1999 Pescadero Creek Road Hydraulic Study, and the late 80’s/early 90’s biological research performed by Dr. Jerry Smith and Prof. Sam McGinnis. These sources provide virtually all the information needed to complete the final design and get to work.”