Five years after restoration, Lower Buck Gully officially “healthy”

By AMY SNIDER SENK

There’s no easy way to say it. Construction, especially Pelican Hill Golf Resort, wrecked Lower Buck Gully. Buck Creek, which historically was ephemeral, changed in the 1990s. Instead of being dry part of the year, it began to see flows equaling approximately 17 million gallons per month even during the dry season. Erosion of the hillside below Hazel Drive began to concern Newport Beach city engineers. And the ecology of the area also changed. Non-native plants began to flourish. Creatures like the brown-headed, non-native cowbird began to call the area home. 

Buck Gully 1

Photos Courtesy of Bob Stein, 

City of Newport Beach

The California Coastal Commission approved restoration plans in 2011, and in September that year, the city began a $1.2 million project to undo the damage. Grants paid for the project, and there was money left over that paid for new trails in Upper Buck Gully. Meanwhile, in Lower Buck Gully, metal cages filled with rocks were placed strategically in the canyon’s floor, diverting water from the hillsides and slowing the flow to limit erosion. Crews sprayed the slopes above the canyon with seeds to revegetate the area with native plants.

The project also included removal of non-native vegetation and trapping of non-native cowbirds, which take over other birds’ nests to lay eggs. The work took a year to complete, but the city continued to monitor the ecology of the area for five more years. They also hired a trapper who placed a cage each nesting season to capture and release cowbirds, and one year caught 18 of the birds. And because one female cowbird can lay as many as 40 eggs in a single season, removing even one female cowbird removed a potential threat to 40 Buck Gully nests.

This summer, state and city officials toured Lower Buck Gully and declared the project a success. “We’re 99.99 percent there,” said Robert Stein, an assistant city engineer. “The hillside is building up on the Hazel side, and the canyon is healthy and lush with native plants.”

Buck Gully 2

Former City Councilwoman Nancy Gardner of Corona del Mar often complained of the state of the canyon, and of the runoff that caused a deep split in the sand at Little Corona Beach. The restoration project didn’t fix the beach issues, which the city could address later this summer, Stein said.

“The next project, next spring, will be to stop the flow across the beach,” he said. In August, plans should be ready that would refurbish the beach, and the city could import sand to try to improve the situation. During heavy rains, water flow from the creek cuts a deep trench that divides the beach in two, but even during summer, the sand shifts and creates a divide.

“It seems like there is less sand than ever,” Stein said. Plans for beach restoration will require permits and money, but he hopes the project could begin in Spring 2018.

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Amy Snider Senk has lived in Corona del Mar for 17 years and until last year was publisher of Corona del Mar Today, an online newspaper that ran daily for seven years. Senk, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is involved in the Corona del Mar Residents Association and the Corona del Mar High School PTA. She and her husband have two children.