Commentary: Working together to safeguard the environment

A Brown pelican flies above  Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach.
A Brown pelican flies above Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Dec. 29, 2020.
(Raul Roa/)

Four decades ago preserving and restoring the Bolsa Chica wetlands became a passion of mine. Working with volunteers and community stakeholders, we successfully fought off development and preserved what became the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary. Today, at nearly 1,500 acres, this beautiful area is now home to many rare and endangered species and stands as a tribute to the hundreds of people who gave their time, money and love to save this invaluable natural resource.

When I started this journey in the 1970s, I did so with an eye toward the future. What can we do to make sure this piece of natural beauty is one day enjoyed by our children and grandchildren? We owe it to those who dedicated their lives to saving this invaluable natural resource, the knowledge that we will always protect and maintain the wetlands from development and human failures.

The Poseidon project will soon come before the Coastal Commission for final approval, and the mitigation efforts that they propose will greatly benefit this resource. One of the measures they are committed to doing is to maintain the tidal inlet. Maintaining this opening to the wetland is critical. If it were too close because dredging was not done, the inlet would close. These waters give the wetlands the nourishment they need and in fact give life to the wetlands. Without this life-giving water we could lose one of the most important natural resources in California. Mitigation requirements also include restoration of the wetland’s intertidal shelf, restoration of the wetland’s muted tidal basins and creation of a water-circulating system with the muted tidal basins.

I am also concerned about the challenges we face due to climate change and the fact that California is going through a drought and needs to look at meeting a critical lack of water. The L.A. Times reported that our state is experiencing the worst drought since the late 1800s and that the western U.S. is in the midst of the worst mega drought in over a millennium. We must prepare for these droughts to continue and must find alternative sources of water. We know that our water resources will be impacted by reduced levels of the snow and rain levels in northern California.

Of course issues have been raised regarding the environmental affects of the project. These have been studied through joint studies by the Coastal Commission and other state agencies. All of this will be a part of the studies conducted by the Coastal Commission staff and be a part of their report to the Commission. As a former member of the California Coastal Commission, I know the stringent environmental requirements that any project along the coastline must meet.

I am not a scientist but have spoken to several whom I respect. They feel that environmental impacts will be minimal. The larger question is, will water be available to our region? Having lived for a time in Australia I know that they have a successful desalination project, and this technology is used around the world. Knowing that climate change is a reality with droughts, wildfires, floods and the unexpected, I think that we must move forward and our future depends on an adequate water supply. Every safeguard for a safe facility being constructed, continued oversight, protection of our citizens, must be in place and strictly enforced.

I am looking at a new future for California regarding our ongoing need for water and the future of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. As always water remains California’s gold!

Shirley Dettloff is a former mayor of Huntington Beach and former member of the California Coastal Commission.

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