California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta littered with abandoned boats

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A move is under way to secure funding for cleaning up about 250 abandoned boats in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. State officials estimate that it would cost an average of about $500,000 each to remove the larger commercial vessels.

“Some of them are floating, some of them are sunk, and some of them are partially sunk,” Steve Hampton with California Department of Fish & Wildlife told the local Sacramento CBS affiliate. “Responding to abandoned and derelict vessels is about 20 percent of our responses.”

The pristine waters have become dumping grounds for boats that, in turn, become hazards to navigation. “It’s a shock,” Steve Mayo, a coach with the River City Rowing Club, told the news station. “Our boats are low to the water, so when they hit it can be really dangerous for the kids too.”

Hampton said people abandon boats without registration numbers which cannot be identified. When recovered the boats are sent to auction, where they sell for very little. “There was a vessel a few years ago, the Spirit of Sacramento, it was auctioned for $1,000 and a month later we needed $3 million to respond to it,” said Hampton. “The larger commercial vessels can leak oil, they have other hazardous materials on them, they are a threat to navigation.”

Hampton said that the 250-boat estimate might be low, since there could be many others underneath the surface. Local authorities have used a state grant to hire contractors to haul 100 vessels in the last 10 years. “But there’s very limited funding for authority to remove these vessels, so a lot of them are just around,” Hampton said.

Officials say there are about 51 commercial vessels littering the riverbanks of the Delta. Some estimates put the cost of removal at about $30 million.

Assembly Bill 2441, which has passed the California state Senate, would create a fund to address the issue. The bill would shift revenues of rentals on public lands under control of the State Lands Commission to a separate account to pay for removal of the vessels. The bill has moved to the Appropriations Committee, but it is unclear whether the bill will pass. 

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