The global health pandemic that has decimated the economy and shuttered businesses across the country has hit the river community of Petaluma, California especially hard.
The river connecting the small community with the San Pablo Bay just north of San Francisco has not been dredged in almost two decades, resulting in mud buildup that prohibits traffic on the waterway. The once-vibrant river community was still and shallow, and far too hazardous for the traffic that used to crowd the thoroughfare.
After being reduced to a muddy mess leaving watercraft at the whim of the tide, the Petaluma River is being dredged for the first time since 2003. San Diego-based Pacific Dredge & Construction, LLC (PDC) dredging services is removing the sediments cutting off the 18-mile thoroughfare linking Petaluma to the San Pablo Bay. Extracting the more than 190,000 cubic yards of mud and silt clears the way to return to commercial and recreational traffic. This is expected to launch a business boom in the area.
Performing a dredging procedure that is supposed to be completed every four years, PDC is opening up the riverway to businesses at a time when the local economy needs it most. Outdoor restaurants along the river will thrive once boats can travel the waterway for the first time in decades.
"We are so looking forward to welcoming people back up the river and all the wonderful events we put on here," executive director of the Petaluma Downtown Association & Visitors Program Marie McCusker told DredgingToday.com. "A dredged river raises everyone economically."
PDC Quietly Revitalizing Petaluma River
While the Petaluma River's suctional dredging may look like any other dredging project, it does not sound the same. PDC is using a revolutionary electric dredge that is virtually silent within operation. The work can go on 24 hours a day without disturbing the surrounding area. This benefit allows PDC to reduce the duration of the project significantly.
Community leaders and business owners championed the project that is seen as an investment in the future that will open up the river to local and visitor traffic. Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) sought local dredging funds from the federal government for years and is looking forward to the project's immediate and long-term benefits.
"This is the day we wanted to get to for a long time," Huffman told the Argus Courier. "The great thing about this day is Petaluma is getting its river back."
Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, an ardent supporter of dredging the river, collected thousands of signatures as part of the "Mayor's Dredge Pledge," rallying the community to lobby for the multi-million dollar project.
"Our community really wanted this," Barret said. "By showing up, we really made an impression. Nothing happens if you don't work together."
Silt turned 'River Town' to 'Mudville'
The Petaluma River was a thriving waterway that brought much-needed tourism dollars to the city of Petaluma, known at one time as "River Town." Over time, dredging funds dried up, and the neglected river became increasingly shallow, making it hazardous for vessels to attempt passage and earning the nickname of "Mudville."
Silt-formed embankments turned into semi-permanent masses that regularly attracted grazing birds. Local boaters even attached funny nicknames to some of these mud features that dotted the river. But the situation was dire. Without professional dredging of the Petaluma River, the appeal and value of the town and the waterway could be lost forever.
Allowing the riverway to become clogged with mud and silt led to millions in lost revenues for businesses which were then hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that compounded the problem. Government officials and business owners are looking to PDC's dredging project to bring tourism back as the world looks to bounce back from the pandemic's catastrophic effects.
In addition to the potential economic benefit to the community, there is a sense of pride residents, and business owners in Petaluma can regain as people and boats return to the river when the dredging project is completed.
"The river is our heritage, it's what puts us on the map and sets us apart," McCusker said. "We are delighted to welcome river tourism back. Hopefully, businesses will turn around and be more river-facing."
Trash Found Among Dredging Materials
PDC's Petaluma River dredging project has yielded a higher volume of mud and silt than was expected. Among the natural materials excavated was a disturbing amount of trash and items that had been dumped into the river in the years since the last dredging of Petaluma River.
The powerful suction dredging from the Sandpiper collected items like shopping carts, bowling balls, an entire car, and even parts of a gun, which led to some interesting questions. It is hoped that with a cleaner river and a clearer pathway, the river will be treated with more respect and be kept clean of trash.
Breaking Down PDC's Suction & Mechanical Dredging Project on Petaluma River
PDC came in as the lowest bidder and was awarded the mechanical dredging project by the United States Corps of Engineers in the summer. They divided the massive suctional and mechanical dredging project up into eight reached to be dredged to -8 mean lower low water (MLLW) with 1 foot of over-depth.
Reaches 1-5 that make up the Petaluma River Channel are dredged using the electrically-powered "Sandpiper," a cutter head suction dredge barge. The Sandpiper dumps the dredged sediments at Shollenberger Park just southeast of Petaluma.
Materials are transferred through a 24" High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipeline. The pipeline is floating and submerged to avoid any navigational hazards or dangers involving other vessels on the river.
Mechanical dredging at reaches 6-8 is performed using the Clamshell Dredge Barge PDC 180 with the Manitowoc 4600 crawler crane. Dredged materials are placed onto 2,000-cubic yard ABS Load Line Dump scows utilizing an environmental clamshell bucket. The mud and silt are towed by Pacific Tugboat Services tugboat to the in-bay site for proper disposal.
Dredging Future of Petaluma River
As officials laud the work of Pacific Dredge & Construction and look forward to the resurgence the project is expected to provide Petaluma and the river community, they realize the rejuvenated riverway is only temporary.
A four-year dredging cycle is needed to maintain the clear passage PDC is providing in the current project. Federal funding is unlikely for future projects, raising the possibility of funding future dredging through a public-private partnership deal.
"We've got work to do on a long-term solution," Huffman told the Argus Courier. "We've been laying the foundation for that and convening the community of stakeholders. The pieces are in place. We need to be proactive the next time around."
PDC Dredging Future is Bright
The Petaluma River dredging project brought some well-earned notoriety to Pacific Dredge & Construction, LLC, but we have been a leader in the mechanical dredging industry for decades.
A team of exceptionally skilled, experienced mariners facilitates a dredging process using reliable barges and state-of-the-art mechanical and cutterhead suction dredging equipment and processes. PDC is able to offer exceptional customer services and provide cost-efficient dredging services that adjust to changing regulations and economies.
To learn more about dredging services from the standard-bearer in the industry, contact Pacific Dredge & Construction today.