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July 23, 2008 > Get involved by learning and restoring salt ponds

Get involved by learning and restoring salt ponds

Submitted By Jennifer Heroux
Photos By courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest wetlands restoration project that has ever taken place on the West Coast. In 2003, 15,100 acres of South Bay salt ponds were acquired from Cargill, and over the next few decades, these ponds will be restored or enhanced to a range of wetland habitats. Please see our project website for more information: www.southbayrestoration.org/Project_Description.html.

As we enter the first phase of Restoration work, The Fish & Wildlife Service is again offering public programs about the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. From the Environmental Education Center in Alviso there is an easy, .25-mile boardwalk that takes visitors through a historic tidal salt marsh to the edge of one of the ponds.

The salt ponds are manmade and were created to harvest the salt occurring naturally in our Bay water. If you've ever flown into an area airport, driven over the Dumbarton Bridge or visited the South Bay shoreline you've probably seen the levees and the ponds themselves. Material from the Bay floor was dredged up to build the levees and create the salt ponds. Once impounded, Bay water travels through the system of ponds. As the water moves along, evaporation increases the water's salinity. Eventually, after five years, the water is supersaturated with salt and it's ready for harvest. Cargill is still producing salt along the edge of the Bay in this manner.

The South Bay had tens of thousands of acres of tidal salt marsh around its edges 150 years ago. Over time, they were converted to salt ponds or developed for other human uses. Today, we have lost 85-90% of the Bay's tidal marshes. "Restore" in the context of this project means that we'll be working to bring back this historic natural landscape to the Bay.

By restoring and enhancing a range of wetlands habitats where there is now only salt ponds, we can provide habitat for a greater variety of San Francisco Bay wildlife, including the endangered species that rely on salt marshes. The project will also open up new public access and recreation opportunities. For several generations, South Bay residents have had very limited access to their part of the Bay.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and CA Dept of Fish and Game with the help of the CA Coastal Conservancy are managing the project, but dozens of other partners, including local governments, regulatory agencies, area businesses and NGOs, are participating in the Project.

This is really an incredible project. Though it will take decades to fully complete it, we are already reaping the rewards of the first changes. Birds are flocking to the ponds, public access trails are being prepared, and work continues to maintain levees for flood protection. This project will improve the lives of all the communities of the South Bay: animal, plant, and human.


More public programs will continue in September with bike tours, van tours and hikes of the salt ponds as well. The upcoming refuge newsletter, the Tideline, will have all the information, and of course check in this newspaper.

What can people do to help? Get involved. Learn about the Project by visiting our website or attending a public program. Join one of the Project's Public Working Groups to assist with the planning and management of the Project. The internet has great resources for information, but there's nothing like getting out and seeing the real thing!


Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Environmental Education Center
1751 Grand Ave, Alviso
(408) 262-5513 ext.101
www.southbayrestoration.org/Project_Description.html

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