By Darren Mierau
CalTrout North Coast Regional Director
A few weeks ago, local pilot Tim Hanan flew over the southern portion of the Eel River delta in the area of Centerville Beach. Our 5-year design effort with The Wildlands Conservancy and agricultural landowners included the former tidelands just to the north of Centerville.
Small wave incursions over the dunes began about 20 years ago, and have been slowly increasing, but earlier this month all hell broke loose. A major portion of the Centerville dune system is now washed away by high tides and large storm surge, a catastrophic loss. A large area of productive agricultural lands were damanged. It appears the whole dune system south of the Eel River mouth is slowly unzipping, moving south to north.
Seeing the steady progression over time from Google Earth images is remarkable. The images below attempt to recreate the image from the same perspective in 2004 and 2019 as the January 2021 photo, to give some reference. The January 2021 wave incursion reached a quarter-mile inland toward the local ranch houses.
Our project was going to restore Russ Creek’s connection to Eel River, but soon it may just drain straight to the Pacific Ocean.
Left: Google Earth imagery from 2004. Right: Google Earth imagery from 2019.
Does this change our design approach for North Coast Estuaries?
That’s a good question. I think Sea Level Rise has to drive some important considerations: how much we invest in certain locations, avoiding muted tidal systems and diked/leveed wetlands, experimentation with living shorelines which are currently challenging to permit because they require placement of fill. These things have already been driving designs, but this event puts the exclamation point on it.