Aquatic Park flooding worsened by antiquated drainage pipes

On Thursday Feb. 9, the patio in front of Waterside Workshops on Bolivar Drive near Aquatic Park was flooded. Photo: Amber Rich

For much of the past few weeks, part of Waterside Workshops along Bolivar Drive in West Berkeley has been under water.

Water laps over the café terrace, submerging the legs of the picnic tables. A bench that offers a view of Aquatic Park is almost completely submerged. A walk to the boathouse means getting wet.

“There are waves in our café courtyard,” said Amber Rich, the executive director of Waterside Workshops, which rents outs boats and bicycles and provides youth job training. “We have staff coming in and out in rubber boots. It’s a mess.”

The severe flooding has forced Rich to shutter parts of Waterside’s operations and cut costs. The newly remodeled café has been closed every weekend but one since Jan. 1, she said. The boat rentals are also closed. Four staff members, all young people who are paid a stipend for their on-the-job training, have been put on hiatus.


Down Bolivar Drive, other businesses are suffering, too. The headquarters of the Berkeley Jet Ski clubhouse is beneath two feet of water, said Rich.

On Jan. 10, Aquatic Park banks were flooded. Photo: Jeanine Nicholson
Aquatic Park on Jan. 10. Photo: Jeanine Nicholson
Waterside Workshops at Aquatic park

The problem is, in part, the seemingly unending parade of storms that have pummeled the Bay Area since the early part of 2017. In January, the city saw 10.88 inches of rain, according to the hydrology site Balance Hydrologies. Since October, the city has gotten 26.09 inches of rain. Much of Berkeley drains westward, and the storm runoff is dumped into Aquatic Park on its way to San Francisco Bay.

But the real culprit is the antiquated drainage system that is failing, and failing hard.

When the state built the Bayside Freeway in the 1930s, the 102-acre Aquatic Park was created from intertidal and subtidal areas, according to a report prepared for the city in 2008. Culverts connect the three lagoons in the park – the Main Lagoon, the Model Yacht Basin and the Radio Tower pond – to San Francisco Bay.

The five main tide tubes that drain water from the park into the bay go under I-80 and are falling apart on the bay side, according to the report, prepared by Laurel Marcus and Associates/Hydrologic Systems. One tube is buried in some sand. Another is cracked and another has collapsed upon itself. The disrepair means water does not drain adequately from Aquatic Park, particularly when heavy rainfall and runoff swamp the system.

Broken tidal tubes by Aquatic Park. Photo: Citizen reporter

The poor drainage also leads to high water temperatures and low oxygen levels in the summer, which can be fatal to fish.

It’s a problem without an immediate solution.

“The tidal tubes do need to be replaced,” said Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. “This has been something we have been concerned about for some time.”

The problem, of course, is money.

Even though Berkeley has passed a number of bond infrastructure measures ­ – the most recent one was Measure T1, a $100 million bond measure approved in November – very little money has been spent to repair the tide tubes. Staff recommended to City Council in January that the city allocate $250,000 of the Measure T1 money to analyze the best way to repair or replace the tubes, get the necessary permits, and prepare architectural documents.

But there still isn’t any money budgeted to do the actual repairs. Berkeley has a long list of unfunded infrastructure needs, as much as $78 million for parks alone. Many projects are not even in line for funds, including the Berkeley Pier, which was shuttered in July 2015 because of structural issues.

The city of Berkeley has been helping Waterside Workshops cope with the flooding, which has left the buildings as “little islands,” said Rich. The rains and the tides have washed tons of garbage and debris onto the property and city staff has been helping clean it up, she said. She is grateful for that assistance.

But Rich wants the city to declare some sort of emergency decree to get more funding to the area, and much faster. City officials are planning to solicit more public comment on how to allocate Measure T1 money and Rich intends to make sure they know how dire the situation at Aquatic Park is.

Flooding at Waterside Workshops in Aquatic Park. Photo: Amber Rich
Water laps up to the cafe at Waterside Workshops near Aquatic Park. Photo: Amber Rich