With Dredging Complete, a Cleaner Colorado Lagoon Reopens to Public

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Photos by Sarah Bennett

After nearly a decade of environmental cleanup efforts and more than six months of closed construction and dredging, the green fences came down around the Colorado Lagoon this week to reveal a healthy, clean saltwater marsh much different from the cesspool of bacteria it had over the years become.

A community celebration being held on Saturday will kick-off the official reopening of the lagoon and introduce residents to the new recreational opportunities the lagoon affords as well as the multitude of projects that have gone into bringing the 13-acre wetland area back to life. Starting in 2008 with a series of water-quality improvement projects, the once-degraded site has been on a continual positive upswing.

The final phase—which began in January of this year—included dredging 63,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment to give the now-clean water come equally as clean ground to sit on.

“Contaminated sediment not only affects the water coming in, it also affects fish and mussels and all of the wildlife,” said Erci Lopez, the City’s Tidelands Capital Project Program Manager. “Now with clean sediment, it’ll be a beneficial impact to the habitat which, in turn, helps ensure that the water stays clean.”

Colorado Lagoon was once part of the Los Cerritos wetlands—a 2400-acre section of the San Gabriel River delta in east Long Beach—and enjoyed open connection to the tidal flows in nearby Alamitos Bay. As urbanization creeped into the area, however, the lagoon’s link to the bay was continually narrowed with the only current connection being an underground culvert that connects it to Marine Stadium.

By the late 1990s, the once-flourishing recreation destination and wildlife habitat was instead filled with what Heal the Bay continually graded some of the dirtiest water on the West Coast.

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A lifeguard seat sits on the Colorado Lagoon’s now-healthy beach. Lifeguards have been on duty again since earlier this week.

Since the early 2000s, though, a variety of groups have taken charge of cleaning and restoring the lagoon, including the California State Coastal Conservancy which sponsored the initial feasibility-improvement study. Three years ago, the City and its partners began a series of water quality improvements that included cleaning the culvert to improve water circulation, installing trash traps in the storm drains and creating a low-flow diversion system to divert some of the most heavily contaminated stormwater into the sewage system.

These projects were completed in late 2010 and by 2011, Colorado Lagoon had fallen off of Heal the Bay’s worst beaches list and was instead given an A+ water-health score.

“The project was designed in a way that would prevent the lagoon’s recontamination,” Lopez said. “By keeping trash out of the lagoon and redirecting the dirtiest flows that come down the storm drain, it prevents the possibiltity of that.”

Colorado Lagoon is one of the few remaining coastal salt marshes on the West Coast and—as home to a diverse and flourishing ecosystem of birds, fish and flora—one of Long Beach’s most unique wildlife habitats. Though there are still plans to build an open channel between the lagoon and Marine Stadium to further assist in keeping the water flow healthy, the estuary’s current rebirth is the culmination of years of hard work and collaboration between municipal, county, state, federal, non-profit and residential groups.

“I think that now that the improvements have been completed, it can definitely be used as a model for other areas in the region,” Lopez said. “The trash trap and low-flow diversion system in particular have been showing really prominent results.”

The Colorado Lagoon Grand Reopening Celebration will take place at Colorado Lagoon near the Wetland and Marine Science Education Center on Saturday August 25 at 10AM. Please visit the Friends of Colorado Lagoon’s website for more information.

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The current placement of Colorado Lagoon’s underground connection to Alamitos Bay (right) and a rendering of the proposed open-air channel.

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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