The Dredge


Andrew Gotshall, Reporter


At first take the Petaluma river may not be the sparkling gem the word “river” may provoke. Instead, it is reputably known as being a stinking brown slew of shopping carts, muddy cat-tails, ugly birds, and industrial barges. Nonetheless, many community members find the river as a peaceful sanctuary away from urban life. No matter if you love it or abhor it, Petaluman’s withhold as much town identity in the river as we do in chickens, eggs, and dairy farms. This is why on February 10th when Congressman Jared Huffman announced that the Army Corps of Engineers would officially be dredging the river the whole town let out a collective sigh of relief. 

Congressman Huffman said in a press release:

“I am thrilled that we will finally be able to address the recreational, commercial, and public safety problems that come from delayed dredging. The safety and viability of commercial and recreational traffic is the highest priority, and I thank the Army Corps for taking action on this urgent infrastructure need.” The long awaited dredging has caused major public dissatisfaction with Huffman’s efforts to ensure funding. The City of Petaluma has set aside two million in emergency dredge funding that can now be used for marina restoration. 

Another press release Mayor Teresa Berret said, “Soon we will be able to smile as we face our river whether it is from the reinvigorated downtown and the soon to be constructed Adobe Road Winery, or from the newly constructed Float House on the turning basin or the proposed river adjacent apartments. This dredging project lets us protect our downtown from flooding, provide for revitalization along our river and turning basin and extend the feel of the place once again in our dynamic River Town.” 

For the last 17 years the river has gone un-dredged. The Petaluma River is supposed to be dredged every four years due to the high silt nature of a river mostly being a tidal slough, where much of the river sediment is carried through marshland and settles at the river. The back of silt from 2003 has caused trouble for recreational enthusiasts, navigating boats, and river conservation efforts.

Student Billy Buickerwood paddles with the Lokahi Outrigger Canoe Club and practices on the river. For him, the impact of the dredging will depend on the location and depth of the final dredging.

“Depending on where the dredge is, because we go from the basin and all the way up 5 miles up the river. So if the dredge happens anywhere between there it is going to have a large effect because the waterway isn’t that big. If the [basin] got dredged it will definitely improve the river. We get stuck all the time. It’s pretty disgusting especially when we have to push off. I’ve been in the river before and it’s all slimy and stuff down there” said Buickerwood.

Additionally, Buickerwood noted how frustrating the muddy conditions of the river can be for post-practice clean up: 

“Everything just gets caked in mud and it takes more time to wash everything down. It’s kinda just a drag,” said Buickerwood. 

Though seen as a all around good for boaters and recreational users, environmental conservationists note that there also may be drawbacks. Senior Hatchery Student Leilani Highland mentioned that there are both benefits and drawbacks of dredging the river after so long. 

“Well It’s an interesting thing because it has the factions of the whole humans versus the environment. It is always a battle over what side has more rights over a certain area. The dredging is going to kick up a lot of silt and destroy a lot of native ground. It’s going to push all that mud into the water and if we do have a native strain of salmon in that creek they spawn by laying their eggs. The males spray their melt onto it and if there is too much disturbance in the water it could cause it so some of the melt doesn’t go straight in. I did hear that they are going to try and avoid doing it during spawning season,” said Highland, “Yes we want to use the river for humans, but we also have to keep in mind the environment is a very important thing we have to consider”

Though there could be an initial disruption to wildlife, Highland states that once the dust has settled the dredging has a chance to bring more good to the river than negatives.

“The dredging could help clear out the trash, and really cleanse that. It gives the plants a chance to grow and mature. It’s settling may take longer than predicted,” said Highland.

In the end the river full of mud or less full of mud will remain an icon of Petaluma culture and economy.