Rhine Channel Cleanup, 2007-2009

In 1999, Orange County Coastkeeper announced its formation at a ceremony overlooking the Rhine Channel (Cannery Restaurant Parking Lot). One of our first goals as an organization was to find a way to clean up the contaminated sediment in the channel. Over a decade later, we have finally seen this goal come to fruition. In January 2011, the Coastal Commission approved a plan to dredge toxic sediment out of the Channel. In a letter to the Coastal Commission, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board staff recognized Coastkeeper for its “genuinely commendable efforts to remediate the Rhine Channel and contribute to water quality and beneficial use improvements in the Bay.”

The dredging of the Rhine Channel was completed on November 11, 2011, a month ahead of schedule! We are proud of our partnership with the City to remove over 90,000 cubic tons of toxic sediment. We look forward to a continued effort to improve water quality and habitat in Newport Bay.


The Rhine Channel is a narrow, closed-ended waterway with little tidal flushing at the western-most end of the Lower Newport Bay in Newport Beach, CA. Neighboring sites to the Rhine Channel are Marina Park, The American Legion and the 15th Street Pier. For 90 years, the Rhine Channel has served as a navigation route for industries such as canneries, metal plating facilities, boatyards and more recently, restaurants. Over these decades, the Channel has accumulated “legacy” pollutants, resulting in contaminated sediment that is toxic to marine life.

Coastkeeper ceremony at Rhine Channel, 1999

High levels of metals (arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc), pesticide (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were identified in the sediment of the Rhine Channel.  These contaminants cause the beneficial uses for this waterway to deteriorate; and government action sufficient to restore those uses is required.  Beneficial uses are defined as “the resources, services, and qualities of the aquatic systems that are the ultimate goals of protecting and achieving high water quality.” The Regional Water Quality Control Board is charged with protecting all these uses from pollution and nuisance that may occur as a result of waste discharges in the region.  The intended beneficial uses for the Rhine Channel include:

  • Navigation (NAV)
  • Water Contact Recreation (REC1)
  • Non-Contact Water Recreation (REC2)
  • Commercial and Sport-fishing (COMM)
  • Wildlife Habitat (WILD)
  • Rare, Threatened or Endangered Species (RARE)
  • Spawning Reproduction and Development (SPWN)
  • Marine Habitat (MAR)
  • Shellfish Harvesting (SHEL)
Collecting sediment core samples

Coastkeeper Study

Pivotal Findings

The City of Newport Beach and Orange County Coastkeeper took the lead in initiating the Rhine Channel remediation. In 2004, Proposition 13 funding allowed Coastkeeper, the City of Newport Beach, and the Regional Board to develop a study determining specific pollutants, site topography, marine environment, physical characteristics of sediment, shoreline structures, water quality and the volume of contaminated sediment. The study initially mapped out the bottom of the channel locating unnatural debris, finding substantial amounts throughout. The study then collected sediment core samples from sixteen representative sites in the channel. After analysis in a lab, the sediment proved to contain high levels of metals, pesticides and PCB’s most concentrated near storm drains but still prevalent throughout the channel, causing toxicity in marine life and quality of water. Potential solutions The Coastkeeper study proposed alternative solutions for restoring the Rhine Channel, which included:

  1. No action, no remediation involved.
  2. Dredging contaminated sediment from the channel and disposing the waste in an upland landfill (this proposal is costly and difficult to enact).
  3. Dredging contaminated sediment and disposing it into an on-site Confined Aquatic Disposal area (this proposal is convenient for location but requires significant space in the Newport Bay).
  4. Dredging and disposing waste at a Near-shore Confined Disposal Facility (this proposal is cost efficient but tough to designate an area for the disposal of waste).

Each of these alternatives has advantages and disadvantages, and the City of Newport Beach has been exploring these options to find the one that is feasible and environmentally sound.

A Breakthrough- Dredging is approved!

On January 12, 2011, the California Coastal Commission approved a version of Coastkeeper’s 3rd alternative option for dredging the contaminated sediment to a Confined Disposal Area. Specifically, the contaminated sediment from the Rhine Channel will be disposed of at the Middle Harbor Port of Long Beach Confined Disposal Facility. At this site, a dredging vessel will withdraw sediment in the Port of Long Beach and replace the removed sediment with the Rhine Channel’s contaminated sediment.  The contaminated sediment will then be capped with a layer of natural uncontaminated sediment.  This option has been proven to be environmentally safe when properly conducted.  The entire project is estimated to take between 4-5 months, and will dredge 150,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the Rhine channel, as well as three other locations where sediment has migrated. The project will improve the marine habitat in the Rhine Channel by removing the toxic sediment. By characterizing the quality of water and proposing alternative remedial actions for the Rhine Channel, Coastkeeper played a pivotal role in moving this cleanup process forward.

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