Colorado Lagoon

Colorado Lagoon during low tide, looking toward Marina Vista Park and Marine Stadium.

With comments including "innovative" and "creative," the state Coastal Commission unanimously approved a $26 million open channel to improve quality of Colorado Lagoon in east Long Beach.

This is Phase 2 of a project to restore the tidal lagoon, which relies on the ebb and flow of ocean tides to circulate water. Phase 1 included vegetation restoration, cleaning of an underground culvert connecting the lagoon with Marine Stadium and dredging the lagoon to eliminate contaminated sediments.

In Phase 2, an open channel will be created between Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium, through the heavily used Marina Vista Park. Plans include a park redesign to maintain active recreation, bridges on Eliot and Colorado streets and protection measures along the channel.

The key to financing the project is a fairly new concept called a mitigation bank. Because the Colorado Lagoon project is enhancing the environment, entities like the Port of Long Beach can mitigate environmental impacts of expansion projects by purchasing "credits" from projects like the lagoon.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands restoration was financed partially with the mitigation credit approach, and that is the key component to plans to restore Los Cerritos Wetlands, as well.

"It took a highly complex instrument to create the mitigation bank," said Eric Lopez, manager of the Project Management Bureau in Public Works. Lopez has been involved since the beginning of planning for the open channel more than a decade ago.

"That's what took us so much time," he said." The document is more than a thousand pages long."

Sediment dredging of contaminated material in Colorado Lagoon also  took longer than expected. For years, storm drains emptied into the lagoon, which collected contaminants, especially from "low flow" water. Low flow means the water coming through the drains when it is not raining, and it is heavily contaminated with oil, grease, fertilizers and more.

Part of Phase I, in conjunction with Los Angeles County's Termino Avenue Storm Drain project, diverts low flow effluent directly to the water treatment plant. When there are storms, the water still goes to Colorado Lagoon.

This open channel project is particularly complex because of the many components, Lopez said. In addition to the channel itself, there will be very extensive grading of Marina Vista Park to reconfigure the sports fields there. The bridges on Eliot and Colorado also will require extensive construction, including detours and more.

Work began in 2001 to restore Colorado Lagoon thanks to a group of neighbors who formed FoCL, Friends of Colorado Lagoon. Their lobbying efforts brought restoration money in, and support from elected officials.

The open channel was designated as Phase 2, and prompted significant debate starting in 2009. It took more than a year to settle on one plan.

Now, Lopez said, the implementation phase begins. The first step will put the project before the Long Beach Harbor Commission seeking an agreement to buy the mitigation credits. That likely will take to mid-April. Then the City Council will be asked to sign off one more time.

Once those approvals are in hand, Lopez and city staff can finalize the design with an already contracted engineer and design firm and figure out how to move utility lines and pipelines. Then the bidding process begins with a request for proposals. After the bids are received, the City Council must approve the construction contract.

All of that takes the project to October or November 2020 — if there are no snags. The construction itself will take 18 to 24 months, Lopez said.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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