Petaluma River Will Be Dredged, and San Rafael Appears to Be Next

After years of lobbying, advocating and at times pleading for help, the Petaluma River will finally be dredged for the first time since 2003. Money has also been set aside for dredging the San Rafael Canal.

“The US Army Corps of Engineers will be allocating roughly $9.7 million this year to pay for the project, [Congressman] Jared Huffman announced Monday,” the Press Democrat reported. “An additional $1.3 million was set aside for preliminary work to eventually dredge the San Rafael Canal.”

Huffman said that he was, “Very happy for the people of Petaluma. They’ve waited a long time.”

Bradford Rex, who called himself a “concerned waterman” in Petaluma, sent us this photo in summer 2018. “These fellows . . . are not the first to get stuck in the Petaluma turning basin and they won’t be the last. My charges in the summer sailing camp have learned to use the dagger boards of their el toros to scoot off the mud, but that doesn’t work so well for a fixed keel. Dredging isn’t just for the sake of pleasure boaters. Water finds its own level and if the river is full of silt then water ends up in someone’s backyard and a business lot. I suppose we’ll have to wait for the car dealerships and the outlet mall to flood before the best slough on earth gets dredged.” Well, the wait may be over, Bradford.
© 2020 Bradford Rex

Dredging could start as early as June, the Press Democrat said, adding that the Army Corps is supposed to maintain the 18-mile river every four years, but has fallen way behind on scheduled maintenance. The cost of dredging has increased as stricter environmental regulations have mandated that toxic spoils removed from digging be dumped in designated areas away from sensitive ecosystems.

Last month, Petaluma’s city council approved nearly $2 million for an emergency dredge of the river turning basin and Petaluma Marina in case the Army Corps again passed on doing the work, the Press Democrat said. “With the project now covered, the city will use that money on the marina, where the number of vessels leasing space is now less than 40% of capacity, or about half the Bay Area average.”

A spokesman for the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference, or CMANC — a consortium of California harbors, ports and marine interest groups — said that this year’s budget request for dredging was “the largest a president has ever asked for; almost 20% more than he asked for last year.” Despite the hefty allocation, CMANC said “the amount requested is less than California’s Ports and Harbors need in Federal Fiscal Year 2021 by over $100 million.

“Once again, we will need to ask Congress to significantly increase the Corps’ appropriations in [fiscal year] 2021!”

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