Restoration Depends on the Tides…and People

When you hear the words wetland restoration, what image comes to mind? I’ll admit, before I worked for Save The Bay, I had very little idea of what the term meant, and even less idea of the actual process of restoring lost tidal marsh to the Bay’s shores.

Now I carry an indelible snapshot of a backhoe breaching a levee at high tide and brackish water rushing over the crystalized surface of a barren, former salt pond for the first time in over 100 years. For a soundtrack, there are cheers from a crowd of bystanders—some who have worked their entire lives for this moment. You can see exactly what I saw in the video below.

The levee breach I witnessed at pond A17 in Alviso, along with Save The Bay’s Executive Director, David Lewis, our Director of Restoration, Donna Ball, and our Senior Scientist, Laura Wainer, was historic. Situated at the southern tip of the Bay in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, pond A17 is part of The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. When complete, the project will have restored more than 15,000 acres of former salt ponds to tidal wetlands. The moment that enormous shovel scooped up its first load of levee soil was the result of decades of groundwork and coordination among ordinary citizens, elected officials, scientists, wildlife managers, and conservation organizations.

So what does restoration look like? Unlike the hard work that precedes it, it doesn’t actually involve much human intervention. The pond will slowly fill over about a week’s time. As the tides flow into the pond, they bring with them Bay sediment and the seeds of the native marsh plants that will one day grow lush. Over the next five years, this white, salty, no-man’s land will build in elevation with mud, which will allow the seeds to take root and establish themselves into a pickleweed salt marsh. “We’re setting the table and letting Mother Nature do the heavy lifting for us,” says John Bourgeois, Executive Project Manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

As the tides become reestablished they help create the habitat for an entire ecosystem of invertebrates, birds, and other Bay creatures. To get an idea of what this area will look like, visit Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, a project that was begun in 2003 and continues still. You can also enjoy the salt marsh experience via your computer through our Virtual Marsh.

Wetlands are important to the health of the Bay and our entire ecosystem for many reasons: They provide habitat for wildlife, filter pollutants before they reach the Bay, offer opportunities for public access and recreation, and protect communities from sea level rise –something we should all be paying more attention to after Hurricane Sandy. San Francisco Bay has lost 90% of its original wetlands. Scientists say that we need 100,000 acres for the Bay to thrive, yet less than 45,000 acres exist. Learn more about restoration projects around the Bay and come out and volunteer on one of our programs.