Conservancy, county look to block trash from wetlands

A Huntington Beach environmental nonprofit has partnered with the county in an attempt to block trash from flowing into the ocean through a pair of flood control channels.

The Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, a group dedicated to restoring the city's coastal wetlands, and the Orange County Flood Control Division hope to have permits within a year to install booms in the Huntington Beach and Talbert channels, which intersect and drain near the Santa Ana River.

The conservancy approached the county last year after it finished a restoration project on the wetlands. As part of the restoration, the group removed a levee that had previously stopped storm water from draining into the area.

With the wetlands now vulnerable, the conservancy and county aim to place a boom, which serves as a filter for trash and debris, in each channel.

"Before, there was never really an opportunity for trash to flow into the wetlands," said Phil Jones, manager of the flood control design unit for the county. "It kind of flowed through the outlet, into the ocean and onto the beaches. But now that the wetlands are there, the trash is flowing into the wetlands."

Jones said the applicants may have plans ready in a few months, but getting permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Fish and Game and other groups may take a year or more.

Conservancy Chairman Gordon Smith said he hopes to apply for funds through Measure M, a county measure passed in 1990 to fund transportation improvements. Jones, though, said county funds will likely suffice to cover the project.

Smith pointed to a March appeals court decision, in which Los Angeles County was found responsible for polluted storm runoff that drained into the ocean, as proof that counties should maintain oversight of their flood channels.

Monday, he pointed out the trash that accumulated in the Magnolia Marsh, a wetland at the end of the Huntington channel, after the heavy rains in March. The debris included plastic and glass bottles, cigarettes, straws, and even a shoe and yellow police tape.

"A lot of this stuff will end up in the ocean and fish will start eating it," Smith said. "This is a bigger problem than just for our marsh here."

Jones said to his knowledge there have never been permanent trash booms in the Huntington or Talbert channels. Crews put in a temporary boom in the Huntington Beach after an oil spill last March to keep the oil from draining into the wetlands.

The Wintersburg Flood Control Channel, which drains into Bolsa Chica, has a trash boom near the wetlands. Jones said he hoped to install a similar device, though possibly a more modern and expensive model, for the other two channels.

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