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May 24, 2011 > The South Bay Salt Ponds: Restoring tidal wetlands

The South Bay Salt Ponds: Restoring tidal wetlands

By Director Richard Santos, Santa Clara Valley Water District

Did you know that an estimated 85 percent of the San Francisco Bay's historic wetlands has been filled or altered? This dramatic decline in tidal marsh habitats has caused populations of marsh-dependent fish and wildlife to dwindle. It has also decreased water quality and increased local flood risks. Restoration of the South Bay salt ponds provides an opportunity to begin to reverse these trends, by improving the health of San Francisco Bay for years to come.

On June 1, we will be celebrating of the completion of work at Pond A8 in Alviso by opening the first of eight tidegates to slowly re-introduce tidal waters to the former salt pond. The work at Pond A8 is part of phase one of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project ("Project"), the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. When complete, the Project will restore 15,100 acres of industrial salt ponds to a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other habitats.

Thanks to contributions from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, The California State Coastal Conservancy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, project managers at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge have been restoring 1,400 acres of ponds A8, A7 and A5, former industrial salt ponds, to shallow subtidal habitat for pelicans, cormorants and ducks. Salt water from these ponds will also begin to scour out Alviso Slough, currently overgrown with vegetation, restoring it to its natural state.

While this milestone for Pond A8 is an important event, as a member of the Project's Stakeholder Forum, I know that it is only a small part of the work that has been done. In fact, the project really began in 2003 when, under the leadership of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a portion of the South Bay Salt Ponds was purchased from Cargill Inc. Shortly after that, the California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Coastal Conservancy launched a four-year public process to design a restoration plan for the property. The final plan was adopted in 2008 and the first phase of restoration started later that year. It wasn't until fall of 2009 that construction began on ponds A8, A7 and A5.

Along with restoring and enhancing wetland habitats and providing for flood management in the South Bay, the project goal is to provide wildlife-oriented public access and recreation. In keeping with this goal, I'm proud to state that the project has already completed 2.2 miles of new Bay Trail between Mountain View's Stevens Creek and Sunnyvale. If you haven't already done so, I strongly recommend taking a stroll or going for a bike ride along this stretch of trail. The weather is perfect for it and the scenery can't be beat!

For event details and to learn more about the project, please visit www.southbayrestoration.org or contact Tracy Grubbs at (415) 564-1976, or via email at t.grubbs@tracygrubbs.com.

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for the northern areas of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara; Alviso; Milpitas; and the north San Jose and Berryessa communities. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

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