Tell the EPA to Protect SF Bay against Cargill

Since last week over 1,600 people have taken action against Cargill and told the EPA to protect the Redwood City salt ponds. Now Bay Area members of Congress are also calling on the federal government to uphold the Clean Water Act and protect the Bay. Read more in the San Mateo Daily Journal and take action below. 

Redwood City Salt Ponds in Jeopardy
Tell the EPA to support the Clean Water Act and stop Cargill’s Bayfill development plan.

Two years ago, Save The Bay exposed Cargill’s goal of bullying federal agencies to declare the salt ponds in Redwood City exempt from the Clean Water Act and other protections.  After (temporarily) stopping them in their tracks, Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the United States, is continuing its drive to pave over 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds — again putting San Francisco Bay’s fragile shoreline at risk from development.

A leaked memo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lawyers says the federal government should no longer apply Clean Water Act regulations to Cargill’s Redwood City salt ponds. This is exactly what Cargill has been heavily lobbying for behind the scenes. This dangerous re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act was created in secret, with no EPA participation, no approval from Congress, and no opportunity for public input. It’s outrageous!

Now we know Cargill has managed to convince an Army lawyer to support reversing decades of federal protection for Bay salt ponds. Any day, that agency could act on the memo and breathe life into the company’s reckless plan to pave over these Bay salt ponds.  But the EPA can still preserve legal protection for the Bay’s salt ponds. The agency has the authority to overrule the U.S. Army Corps and preserve Clean Water Act authority over Bay salt ponds.

Scientists agree that Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City are one of the most important shoreline habitats on the Bay. Surrounded by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the ponds are a wintering and migratory spot for tens of thousands of shorebirds. What’s more, some of the world’s last remaining endangered western snowy plovers depend on these ponds as breeding grounds.

Redwood City salt ponds offer a rare opportunity to restore San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes, to benefit wildlife and the people of the Bay Area. We know it works because nearly-identical retired salt ponds near Vallejo were recently reconnected to the Bay, and wildlife is already flocking back. Redwood City’s salt ponds can have the same future if the EPA preserves Clean Water Act protection.

This issue is bigger the Bay. The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law governing water pollution—and undermining it here in San Francisco Bay puts wetlands across the United States at greater risk of development. It takes every one of us doing our part, working together, to protect and restore our most precious natural resource. Please donate today to support this important work.

TAKE ACTION and support SF Bay today!

201410 Take Action Button


Cargill Tries to Gut the Clean Water Act to Build Homes in The Bay

Cargill Salt and its developer partner DMB revealed last month that they attempted to secure a key exemption from the federal Clean Water Act that would have weakened the nation’s top water pollution law for the benefit of their reckless development scheme in Redwood City. And they almost succeeded: the companies convinced a key official at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarter to unilaterally reinterpret the law. Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intervened to block Cargill’s effort, at least temporarily.

The revelation shows Cargill is still desperate to advance its massive housing development on Bay salt ponds, and even is willing to gut the nation’s most important water protection law without any public process or Congressional debate. Through vigorous behind-the-scenes lobbying of a few federal government lawyers, Cargill almost upended laws that have reduced water pollution and protected public health for more than 40 years.

In August, Cargill released documents to a Redwood City newspaper showing that general counsel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to instruct the agency’s San Francisco District to decline federal oversight of the Redwood City salt ponds where Cargill wants to build thousands of homes.

The Daily News reported that the Corps’ Chief Counsel, Earl H. Stockdale, signed a memo in January exempting the Saltworks site from Clean Water Act coverage because the ponds contain “liquid” that has “been subject to several years of industrial salt making processes.” His memo repeats nearly verbatim arguments DMB made two years ago that the concentrated bay water in the ponds is actually not water.  Stockdale’s memo also suggests that most of the ponds are also not covered by the Rivers and Harbors Act, which discourages construction of structures on “navigable water”.

If adopted as policy, Stockdale’s memo would overturn decades of Corps precedents in San Francisco Bay, including the Corps’ 2010 conclusion that development on the Saltworks site does require federal permission because those ponds do contain water protected by the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. Stockdale’s memo was issued without any public process or review, and without consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has primary authority over implementation of the Clean Water Act.

When the EPA discovered Stockdale’s memo, it intervened to halt any hasty decision about the Saltworks property. EPA officials realized that Stockdale’s reinterpretation could not only block protection of Bay salt ponds, but also jeopardize regulation of polluted runoff from mines and other sites across the nation. EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld insisted that EPA have final say on the Clean Waters Act “in light of the significance of the issues raised by the Corps’ proposed approach and the ecological importance of the San Francisco Bay waters at issue.”

The EPA’s intervention prompted senior Army Corps officials to suspend any action on the Cargill site. They have launched an internal review of Stockdale’s memo and how its sweeping change to federal water law could be snuck through the regulatory process without their knowledge, public review, EPA consultation, or action by Congress.

Even if Cargill wins the ruling it seeks from the Army Corps, it will still face hurdles from other state and federal agencies to secure permits for developing on the Bay shoreline.  And no development project on the Redwood City salt ponds can advance without initial approval from the city itself.  Cargill’s formal project proposal was withdrawn from the city in May 2012, after three years of strenuous opposition from local residents and Bay Area elected officials prevented the completion of even a draft environmental analysis.

Residents objected to the city council considering the project because it was at odds with Redwood City’s General Plan and zoning, state and federal laws. Local opposition to the project prompted hundreds of residents to establish a new citizens group, Redwood City Neighbors United. These residents continue to object that Cargill’s plan would destroy restorable wetlands, add to traffic gridlock, overtax drinking water supplies, encroach upon industries at the Port of Redwood City, and put thousands of new residents at risk of floods from rising seas.

For years, Cargill and DMB have acted as if they were above the law, but they have made no progress convincing local, state and federal agencies their Saltworks project is legal. Now they have arrogantly disclosed their own effort to gut the laws that protect San Francisco Bay and the nation’s water so they can boost their profits.

These companies have been tireless and shameless, but Save The Bay and our allies remain vigilant to Cargill’s sneak attacks, and we have mobilized more than 25,000 Bay Area residents and more than 150 elected officials to tell Cargill to abandon its plan to build in the Bay.

Please help us spread the word! If you haven’t already signed our petition telling Cargill to abandon its plan, do so today, and spread the word to your friends here today.

Guest Blog | Redwood City Residents Stay Vigilant

Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. The ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)
Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. In this map, the ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)

Below is a recent news update from Redwood City Neighbors United, a local community non-profit dedicated to preventing residential and commercial development on the over 1,400 acres of open space that comprise the Cargill salt ponds.

Although it’s been nearly two years since DMB withdrew its controversial proposal to build a massive housing development on the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City, members of Redwood City Neighbors United (RCNU) remain vigilant, believing that any actions taken by local agencies to modify the status of this highly sensitive area has the potential to facilitate development when Cargill inevitably returns with a new proposal.

In early February, this attention to detail paid off. RCNU noticed an item on the Redwood City Council’s February 10 Consent Calendar that was designed to expand recycled water service to include all of the Cargill salt ponds.

While RCNU strongly supports the use of recycled water throughout the developed portions of the city, the expansion of services to an area designated as open-space under the General Plan signaled an intent by the City to construct infrastructure, a growth-inducing action that would pave the way for future development of the site. Particularly egregious was the fact that the proposal to expand recycled water service to the salt ponds was being pushed through on a consent calendar vote (meaning no Council discussion or public comment) and without any environmental review.

In a letter to Redwood City staff, RCNU requested that the City remove the item from the Council agenda, and asked that the Cargill salt ponds be excluded from any future amendments to the recycled water service area. Staff responded quickly, pulled the item from the Council agenda, and agreed to the need for “additional meetings with members of our community before we move this forward to our City Council”.

RCNU was gratified to receive a timely and responsive withdrawal of this proposal, and appreciated the promise of a more inclusive process moving forward. The neighborhood group will continue to monitor developments and changes to local and regional maps relating to the Cargill site.

For more information:

  1. Staff report on the recycled water service area (Click on item 7A to see a list of supporting materials, including the proposed new map boundary)
  2. RCNU Letter to the City – February 10, 2014

For more information about Redwood City Neighbors United, visit their website and sign-up for updates at

Dan Ponti, RCNU Steering Committee Member

Thank you for Saving The Bay

As our founder Kay Kerr once said, “The Bay is always in the process of being saved.” It’s an adage we invoke every time we go up to bat against another dangerous and foolhardy plan to fill in our Bay. This time of year especially, as we reflect on our accomplishments from the year and corral our resources for next year’s fights, we remember an important truth that underlies every single victory this organization has ever managed. The Bay isn’t just being saved—we, together, are saving it. To build on Kay’s timeless statement: the community is always in the process of saving the Bay. 

Saving The Bay: Then and Now
We’re continually in the process of saving the Bay.

There’s our founding story. In 1961, Santa Fe Railroad Company proposed a massive 2,000 acre bay fill development off the shoreline of Berkeley (map). Their grandiose development plans included a new airport, industrial and commercial buildings, houses, hotels, and more. Save The Bay came into existence in order to defeat this proposal and save the Berkeley shoreline –with the help of our founding members, we won that fight in 1963.

Then in 1968, David Rockefeller proposed to create a “new Manhattan” by filling 27 miles of San Mateo County shoreline. Their plan was to chop off the top of San Bruno Mountain (map), fill in the Bay with the dirt, while using the leveled mountain for additional real estate development. For the next decade, we worked doggedly with local allies to kill this plan—and we won.

Today, we’re standing with local residents against Cargill’s plans to build on restorable Redwood City salt ponds (map). For the last 5 years, we’ve thwarted Cargill’s every attempt to jam this plan through. Most recently and desperately, they’ve petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exempt this destructive developmentplan from the Clean Water Act. If we continue to thwart their efforts, we can exhaust and defeat them. But in order to stay in the game, we need your help.

This week, Save The Bay gives thanks to our many volunteers, neighborhood activists, supporters, and founding members. Thank you for standing with us and thank you for saving the Bay. We hope you’ll continue saving the Bay with us.

Federal Wildlife Plan Calls for Restoration of Redwood City Salt Ponds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration site nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration sites nearby.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a much-anticipated 50-year plan for the restoration of the Bay’s wetlands. A blueprint for the recovery of over a dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species that depend on the Bay’s wetlands, the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan includes recommendations for tens of thousands of acres of the Bay shoreline, saying that the protection and restoration of the Bay’s wetlands are critically needed for endangered species like the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse to have a chance at avoiding extinction.

The plan clearly states that restoring the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City and Newark would close critical gaps in the restoration of the South Bay shoreline.

This is consistent with the message from Bay scientists, Save The Bay, and the hundreds of organizations, cities, elected officials, and newspaper editorial boards who have formally opposed Cargill’s efforts to place thousands of houses on 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

The Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan also calls for the restoration of a shoreline area immediately adjacent to the Newark salt ponds – a 550-acre section of diked baylands referred to as “Area 4.” Save The Bay has joined with a dozen other environmental groups to oppose the City of Newark’s proposal to fill these baylands with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses.

These strong recommendations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are another clear indication that the greatest value of the Redwood City salt ponds is what they can provide to the Bay if restored. Knowing that the Redwood City ponds provide habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, Cargill nonetheless has fought against any governmental effort that discusses the site as anything other than an ‘industrial moonscape.’

This is the same message that Cargill has sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its petition to make the Redwood City salt ponds “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws that protect the Bay from being filled.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took a stand by highlighting the importance of the Redwood City salt ponds to the Bay. Now we need your help to ensure the EPA and Army Corps don’t cave to Cargill on their attempts to be granted an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act. Help Save The Bay continue to make sure state and federal agencies protect the Bay from Cargill. Donate today!