The nature preserve’s recent ecological restoration has some people worried in the aftermath
Leaning against the railing of the wooden walkway that winds its way over Neary Lagoon , Rumiel Rothschild looks out over the cloudy brown water. “You don’t register how beautiful things are until they go away,” she says.
Rothschild has lived in the lagoon’s bordering Arbor Cove Senior Commons since January and used to take frequent walks through the pristine downtown treasure. But this brisk morning in early November marks only her second time out on the lagoon in recent months. Santa Cruz Public Works closed the “walk-on-water” pathway from early September to mid-October during a sediment removal project. Rothschild ventured out onto the familiar path once the gates were re-opened, but was so dismayed by the way it looked post-op that she hadn’t returned until now.
“The whole feeling is different,” she says. “There was something special about it. Now it is disorienting to go in there. It looks like it was done carelessly.”
Upon hearing the news, Rothschild’s neighbor Bill Powell up and went to England for the duration of the project. He walked that route everyday and couldn’t bear the thought of it being closed for such a long time. Back across the pond, and looking out over a much smaller one, he is also disappointed by the results. “The fish are gone,” he says. “They haven’t picked up the debris, wood is floating. The channel markers are still there.” He also reports not seeing the lagoon’s resident turtles, fish variety or the usual cormorants. “If they lost the fish they should’ve restocked them. If you remove the fish, you lose some of the birds, too.”
But while Powell is certain that the workers had “no environmental concern,” Siobhan O’Neill, of Santa Cruz Public Works, says that the city took measures to mitigate the impact on animals.
“We had a biologist working with the contractors on a daily basis,” she says, adding that there has been no visible impact on any of the lagoon’s creatures. “We started the project after nesting season was over so the birds aren’t impacted. The only special status water species [in the lagoon] is the Western Pond Turtle . The turtles were removed to a turtle sanctuary while the project was going on and are back home now.”
As for the scalier inhabitants, O’Neill hasn’t heard reports of a single dead fish.
Immediately following the sediment removal project, Powell was concerned about the unusually low water levels, which have now returned to normal. “When the project was done, the walkways rested on muck,” he says, standing on one as he speaks. “Now they are floating again.”
Two park rangers kneel at the water’s edge further along the path, where the wooden walkway spits visitors out onto solid land. While neither ranger feels knowledgeable enough on the project to explain it, one of them does offer his opinion on the lagoon’s current well being. “The water level is back to where it should be, give or take a few inches. And this is about as clear as the water gets,” he says, preferring not to give his name. O’Neill agrees, explaining that “there was never much clarity to begin with.”
The city hired Aquatic Environments Inc. to take on the project, a California company that specializes in wetland restoration, aquatic maintenance and water feature construction. The project had two main parts: tule removal, which O’Neill says has been going on for years, and dredging the lagoon to remove sediments. The project was an effort to keep the lagoon in line with the Neary Lagoon Sediment Management Plan , which estimates that, based on current sedimentation rates, there will be a complete sedimentation of the upper Lagoon in 20 years time.
“[Neary Lagoon] wants to be a marsh,” says O’Neill. “It’s going to be filled within a few years if we don’t start now. This was just one step.” She says that the new channel dug this fall will help deter solidification, but the projects probably won’t stop there. “We don’t have any specific projects in the future, but I’m sure it’s going to have to happen.”
O’Neill wasn’t aware that some nearby residents, such as Arbor Cove’s Rothschild and Powell, were unhappy with the results. She says that she and Santa Cruz Public Works work very closely with a different group of residents, the Shelter Lagoon Homeowners Group, to ensure communication and that concerns are being addressed. She feels that other residents who see problems with the project’s outcome, and may be newer to the area, are not be aware of the requirements stipulated in the lagoon’s management plan.
“This happens every couple years—there is somebody who isn’t familiar with the requirements that are needed to maintain the vision of the management plan,” she says.
Regardless of plans or projects, Rothschild feels the water needs something more—something to restore the health, vibrancy and majestic qualities she once saw in it. “The whole thing was handled so badly that maybe now what the water needs is healing,” she says. She decided to stop waiting on officials to make the changes she wants to see, and is planning a healing ceremony for the body of water this weekend. Event specifics will depend on the response she gets from the community.
“All of the sudden I thought, ‘I don’t just want to complain about this,” she says. “We could do something here and affect positive change on more than one level—the water, the people, the community.”
She is basing her event off the work of a Japanese scientist named Dr. Masaru Emoto . Dr. Emoto has organized groups all over the world to rescue bodies of water using his idea of Hado, described by the researcher himself as “the intrinsic vibrational pattern at the atomic level in all matter. The smallest unit of energy. Its basis is the energy of human consciousness.” Rothschild says she has been “tuned in” to his work for a long time.
“How you act towards water influences the way the water acts. If you say ‘I love you water,’ the water picks up on it,” she says. “The crystal structure of the water changes in response to what you’re putting out.”
Rothschild has contacted Dr. Emoto for consultation, as well as to simply thank him for the inspiration. She envisions hundreds of people turning out to the event—or at least enough folks to encircle the lagoon—to put their minds and hearts toward clearing the water. There is no telling what the visible outcome will be, or how quickly it will manifest itself, but Rothschild is confident in the power of positive wishes. She says, “It will be great, a couple hundred people holding hands and wishing the water well.”
If you are interested in participating in the Neary Lagoon healing ceremony, call Rumiel Rothschild at 464-4564.