Making an Impact : Bay Restoration

Emily Stanford is a sophomore at Oberlin College studying biology. She is interested in becoming an ecologist and conducting research. During her winter break, Emily visited the Bay Area and volunteered her time to help with the horizontal levee project at Oro Loma.

Emily working with Save The Bay staff and volunteers at the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee project.

I first heard about Save The Bay through an alumnus from my school who recommended it as a great place to get experience doing basic field work. As an aspiring ecologist, I decided to travel to the Bay Area during my winter break to volunteer with them to see what I could learn and to make a positive impact on the area.

While there, we worked on restoring a wetland that would provide filtration at the Oro Loma water treatment plant in San Lorenzo. The ultimate goal was to plant 70,000 plants. Every day we alternated work by cutting roots and rhizomes from the plant beds, counting them, and replanting them in the mud. It was very dirty work, but it turned out to be very rewarding. I really enjoyed spending the days outside and it was awesome realizing how much work we had accomplished at the end of each day.

However, the best part about working with Save The Bay was being able to spend time with the awesome faculty and volunteers who came out every day. They were funny, enthusiastic, passionate about their work, and great to talk to. I had many awesome conversations with them and we often had fun by playing games while we worked. All in all, it was a great experience and I hope to come back if I am in the area again. I would highly recommend that anyone come out if they have a free day.

— Emily Stanford

Our Bay’s future will be on Bay Area ballots

An unprecedented coalition supports a 9-county ballot measure that could restore SF Bay and protect shoreline communities.

Leading business and environmental organizations join elected officials from across the Bay Area in supporting campaign to fund better water quality, expanded wildlife habitat, shoreline recreation opportunities and improved flood protection.


OAKLAND—Today the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA) voted to place the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention, and Habitat Restoration Program, known as the “Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure,” on the June 2016 ballot in all nine Bay Area counties. The measure would raise $500 million over 20 years to fund critical Bay restoration and flood protection projects.

Funding generated by the measure would support wetlands restoration projects to reduce pollution of Bay waters, expand wildlife habitat, expand trails and recreational opportunities along the Bay shoreline, and protect shoreline communities from flooding.

“The San Francisco Bay is our region’s defining feature, and this measure is an historic opportunity to leave the Bay better off for our children and grandchildren,” said Jim Wunderman, President & CEO of the Bay Area Council. “By acting now to restore our wetlands, we can improve the bay ecosystem for fish and wildlife, while protecting huge portions of the bay shoreline from storm surges and rising seas.”

A December 2015 poll conducted by EMC Research for the SFBRA shows overwhelming public support for the measure, with 70% of likely June 2016 voters surveyed willing to support this modest, $12 parcel tax when provided with basic information about its benefits.

The measure is supported by a broad coalition of environmental and business groups, including Save the Bay, Audubon California, the Bay Area Council, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. More than 11,000 Bay Area residents have signed online petitions in support of the measure.

Along with more than 30 other elected leaders who have already endorsed the measure, the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose have all pledged their support. (Full list of endorsers attached.)

  • “It may bear our City’s name, but the San Francisco Bay is the shared treasure of all 7 million Bay Area residents. This measure is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the entire Bay Area to come together to support something that will touch each of our lives—a cleaner, healthier and safer San Francisco Bay.”
    San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
  • “The Bay supports and sustains our local economy by creating and preserving hundreds of thousands of jobs in shipping, tourism, fishing, recreation, and education. A healthy Bay is essential to our quality of life.”
    Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
  • “The Bay is the lifeblood of our region. Wetlands on its shorelines are critical for climate resilience in the decades ahead, and our future vitality as a region requires robust investment in their restoration.”
    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo

Tidal marsh restoration funded by the measure would improve water quality and control pollution by reducing the trash and other toxins that flow into the Bay and ocean. It would increase natural habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, including Pacific salmon and Dungeness crab, porpoises, sea lions, and shorebirds.

“San Francisco Bay is one of the most important places for birds in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the anchors of a migratory superhighway that we call the Pacific Flyway,” said Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California. “Restored wetlands and cleaner water will support the million shorebirds and waterfowl that use the bay, and increased public access to the shoreline will provide recreational and educational opportunities.

Large-scale restoration of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands is essential to protecting shoreline communities from the increasing risk of severe flooding due to extreme weather and rising sea levels attributable to climate change. More than $60 billion in homes, businesses, and crucial infrastructure is at risk, including ports, airports, roads, office buildings, and entire neighborhoods at or below sea level. A March 2015 report commissioned by the Bay Area Council found that an extreme storm event could cost our region $10.4 billion, almost as much as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“The Bay Area is already beginning to experience the impacts of climate change, and the best science available shows that flooding due to sea level rise and extreme weather will intensify, putting low-lying communities and billions of dollars of critical infrastructure at risk,” said Mike Mielke, Sr. VP of Environment & Energy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The best answer is to work with nature to help protect us all from this. Doing nothing is not an option.”

“Scientists agree that the Bay needs 100,000 acres of shoreline habitat for the health of fish, birds, wildlife, and people,” said David Lewis, Executive Director of Save The Bay. “Today, 31,000 acres of publicly-owned baylands await restoration, but require funding. Today, with the Restoration Authority’s vote, the public will finally have an opportunity to act.”

In addition to directly generating $500 million for the Bay, funds raised by this measure could leverage additional state and federal funds, potentially tripling the available pool of funds for Bay restoration, public access, and keeping communities safe from flooding.

Passage of the measure will require approval by 2/3 of the total voters casting ballots cumulatively across all nine Bay Area counties in the June 2016 election.

# # #

Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure

Public Endorsements (as of Jan. 13, 2016)

U.S. Congress

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02)

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14)

Former U.S. Rep. George Miller


Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose

Mayor Edwin Lee, City of San Francisco

Mayor Libby Schaaf, City of Oakland

Mayor Pat Showalter, City of Mountain View

State Legislature

Sen. Mike McGuire (SD 02)

Sen. Steve Glazer (SD 07)

Sen. Loni Hancock (SD 09)

Sen. Bob Wieckowski (SD 10)

Sen. Mark Leno (SD 11)

Sen. Jerry Hill (SD 13)

Sen. Jim Beall (SD 15)

Assemblymember Bill Dodd (AD 4)

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (AD 15)

Assemblymember David Chiu (AD 17)

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (AD 18)

Assemblymember Philip Ting (AD 19)

Assemblymember Bill Quirk (AD 20)

Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (AD 22)

Assemblymember Mark Stone (AD 29)

Bay Area County Supervisors

Alameda Co. Supervisor Wilma Chan (District 3)

Contra Costa Co. Supervisor John Gioia (District 1)

Marin Co. Supervisor Katie Rice (District 2)

Marin Co. Supervisor Kathrin Sears (District 3)

Napa Co. Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht (District 1)

Napa Co. Supervisor Keith Caldwell (District 5)

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar (District 1)

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin (District 3)

San Francisco Supervisor London Breed (District 5)

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim (District 6)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (District 8)

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos (District 9)

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos (District 11)

San Mateo Co. Supervisor Dave Pine (District 1)

Santa Clara Co. Supervisor Ken Yeager (District 4)

Santa Clara Co. Supervisor Joseph Simitian (District 5)

Solano Co. Supervisor Erin Hannigan (District 1)

Business Groups

Bay Area Council

Bay Planning Coalition

Silicon Valley Leadership Group

Environmental Organizations

Audubon California

Ducks Unlimited

Friends of the San Leandro Creek

Greenbelt Alliance

Regional Parks Association

San Francisco Bay Joint Venture

Santa Clara Co. League of Conservation Voters

Save The Bay

Sonoma Land Trust

Trust for Public Land

Political Party Organizations

Santa Clara Co. Democratic Party

Sonoma Co. Democratic Party

Local Elected Officials and Community Leaders

Andy Ball, Suffolk Construction*

Rod Diridon, Sr., Former Santa Clara Co. Supervisor

Ted Lempert, Children Now*

Lenny Mendonca, Director Emeritus McKinsey and Co.*

John Sutter, East Bay Regional Park District Board Member


Staff Planting Day 2015!

oro loma group
At 9am Tuesday morning, Save The Bay’s staff gathered at the entrance of the Oro Loma Sanitary District, ready to get to work outside. It was a day past Fellows and I have anticipated as a fun disruption of our usual indoor routines, and anyone would agree that if Bay Savers aren’t channeling their focus, good humor and determination into computers at the office, they’re going to channel those qualities onto the field, especially with trowels.

oro loma flags

Before diving in, the Habitat Restoration team guided us through the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project and its context of sea level rise and restoration efforts in San Francisco Bay. After our nursery manager Jessie’s brief tour of the nursery beds where she’s growing the 70,000 seedlings to be planted on the site, Habitat Restoration Director Donna provided a brief overview of the experimental levee and its innovative approach to sustainable bayshore infrastructure and improving water quality. In collaboration with UC Berkeley (include list of other partners here), Oro Loma Sanitary District will provide research that would demonstrate how this ecotone project would effectively interact with treated wastewater and continue re-establishing the Bay’s habitat in the future.

With that in mind, our planting crew joined the rest of the Habitat Restoration team, put on our gloves, and patted in at least seven different species on deck (while their names escape me now, they were gratefully color-coded in white, red, pink, light blue, dark blue, purple, light green, and dark green). Between digging, I couldn’t help but take in the unique space–a wastewater management facility and active construction site around us–and was amazed at what an unconventional venue like this this would provide for a manmade basin. How will this site look in a few years once the levee is completely planted and thriving? I’m usually a very patient person, but I am pretty excited to see Oro Loma’s transformative results.

oro loma planting

After four hours out in the field, the Save The Bay staff put in 2,260 plants–a full cell of the levee! How did a few of us cool off afterward? By going over to Alameda Memorial State Beach and taking a celebratory dip the Bay! 

Are you interested in contributing to a unique restoration project along the Bay shoreline? Save The Bay will be hosting one more volunteer planting workday at Oro Loma, on December 12. Volunteer with us!

Tide Rushes in at Sears Point: A Great Example of what Measure AA Can Do

The Sonoma Land Trust captured this dramatic video of the Sears Point levee breach.
More than a decade of planning, permitting, and restoration work culminated on October 25 with the breaching of a levee that had separated San Francisco Bay from a newly restored marshland at Sears Point, located near San Pablo Bay in Sonoma County.  For the first time in over 120 years, tidal flow is now occurring between the Bay and the 960 acre site, which was historically a wetland but had been diked, drained, and used for farming for decades.

The successful restoration at Sears Point illustrates the many benefits of regional Measure AA, which will fund similar crucial projects around the Bay Area.

The new marshland will filter excess nutrients from runoff and prevent them from reaching the Bay.  It will be a carbon sink, sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  It will serve as habitat for species like the endangered Ridgway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.  And it will serve as a natural bulwark against flooding caused by future storms and sea level rise.

Previously, the Sears Point Ranch property was proposed to be developed into a casino owned by the local Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.  However, the Graton Tribe ultimately dropped its purchasing rights for the site in 2003.  The Sonoma Land Trust, which preserves environmentally significant land in Sonoma County, bought the property in 2005 and began working with several funders and stakeholders to restore the ecosystem to its natural state.

The wetland restoration project broke ground in June 2014.  Agricultural hayfields were replaced with a grid of specially designed dirt mounds.  The mounds will help slow the speed of incoming water, causing the sediment contained in the water to drop out and settle into the marshland, where it can help anchor ongoing plant growth.  Additionally, a new levee was constructed to protect adjacent property and infrastructure.  The levee will double as new habitat for species that inhabit the ecological transition zone between the tidal marsh and the upland.

On October 25, hundreds of spectators came to observe the removal of the levee separating the Bay from the future wetland.  Within moments of an excavator crane scooping away the earthen barrier, water began pouring down into the site, to sustained cheers and applause from the gathered crowd.  Attendees were given small pods containing pickleweed seeds in order to participate in the re-seeding of the marshland.  I had the pleasure of witnessing the breach, along with Save The Bay’s habitat restoration director, Donna Ball, and our communications director, Cyril Manning.

The project also demonstrates the value of governmental and non-governmental entities working together towards a common environmental goal.  The Sonoma Land Trust partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and Ducks Unlimited, among others, in funding and planning this $18 million restoration effort.

The work at Sears Point Ranch is by no means complete.  In the coming years, more investments will be made to improve the newly constructed levee, enhance public access, and fully reestablish tidal action and hydrology at the site. However, it is already contributing to a region-wide movement to reverse the damage caused over the past 150 years by wetland degradation and destruction.

According to scientists, the Bay needs to see accelerated action on more projects like Sears Point in next few decades. You can help ensure that the 36,000 acres of baylands awaiting restoration are given the funding they deserve by voting YES on Measure AA this June 7th.

Report: The Baylands and Climate Change


The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do, The Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Science Update was released earlier this week.   More than 200 scientists and climate change experts have worked over the last three years to update the 1999 Baylands Goals Report to address the threat of climate change.   This Science Update addresses threats facing the Bay including rising seas, extreme weather events, the effects of climate change on urban functions, and decreased sediment supply.

Not just another report  

This report highlights the urgency and the boldness with which we must act to save over 80% of our existing wetlands over the next 100 years during this period of rapid change.  Sea levels are rising; weather patterns are shifting, and the sediment supply that has helped nourish our wetlands since the Gold Rush appears to have been exhausted.  We have modified our key natural processes such as freshwater flows, tidal exchange, flood-plain productivity, and the balance between native and nonnative species.

Much of our critical infrastructure such as levees, flood-control channels, roads, railways, storm drains, landfills, and sewage treatment systems are all built at the edge of the bay.  Our human built infrastructure as well as our remaining natural habitats needs immediate investment in adaptation strategies to be resilient in the face of the coming changes.  We need to adjust our policies and our methods to encourage rapid restoration and enhancement of natural infrastructure to protect people and property while also supporting natural processes, and protecting habitat for native plants and animals.

Sea levels are predicted to continue to rise at what is currently thought to be a fairly predictable rate through mid-century.  After 2050, sea levels are predicted to rise at a much higher rate.  We need to accelerate restoration to get ahead of the sea level rise acceleration that is projected for the middle of this century.    This Science Update incorporates the latest science – and advances the understanding of climate change and sediment supply in the baylands. This proposed science-based path forward to address threats facing the Bay emphasizes working with nature to protect existing wetlands and help them grow to keep pace with sea level rise.

This report and the online science chapters place emphasis on:

  • Restoring complete baylands systems. Many of our watersheds and habitat are disconnected from adjacent habitat types and are disconnected from the physical processes that keep them healthy.  Diverse, connected habitats can help sustain wildlife and humans during extreme conditions.
  • Accelerate restoration of complete baylands systems by 2030. This can be done by ensuring that we restore as many tidal marshes before this time so that they are intact to provide benefits when sea levels begin to rise more quickly.  This requires acceleration of restoration projects on available land.
  • Plan for a dynamic future. Instead of reacting to events, we need to create policies that anticipate change over time.  This means that we need to prepare for the landward migration of the baylands by conserving transition zones between the baylands and adjacent uplands.  We also need to develop and implement a regional plan for sediment reuse that takes advantage of sediment from dredged, excavated, or naturally occurring sites so that it can be used to restore and sustain the baylands.
  • Increase regional coordination. Working together is going to be key to implement the recommendations in this report in a timely way.  The recommendations included in this report will require even more collaboration to build consensus, identify barriers, solve problems, and promote shared learning.

The original Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Report was released in 1999 and much progress has been made on restoring San Francisco Bay’s tidal wetlands as a result of the recommendations included in that report.   A number of large tidal marsh restoration projects have been planned and restored.  However, much work remains to be done to reach the goal of 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands and there are numerous pending projects that need funding in order to be implemented.

Shorelines will need to be protected by a combination of gray and green infrastructure but we need to resist the temptation to erect hard infrastructure in every location.  We can use wetlands to provide effective protection from storm-induced waves, absorb excess water from both uplands and from the Bay, filter pollutants, sustain fisheries, and provide wildlife habitat and places to enjoy nature.  While hard levee protection will be needed in some areas of the way we also need to work with nature to use bay shore wetlands to buffer and protect the Bay area’s seven million people from rising seas and extreme storms.

What does this report mean for Save The Bay’s work? 

Our Habitat Restoration Team has been working on restoring transition zone habitat for the past 15 years.  In the past several years we have stepped up that work to work with our partners on much larger projects that can provide protection and migration space.

We are currently working on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project that will serve as a demonstration project for implementing innovative restoration methods to use natural systems to respond to climate change.  Our Policy and Communications Teams are responding to the call from scientists to accelerate marsh restoration by working with other Bay area leaders to place a $12 annual parcel tax measure on the June 2016 ballot that would raise $500 million over the next 20 years for wetland restoration and flood control.  These are only a couple of the ways that we are addressing the threats facing the Bay.  We look forward to working with other Bay area leaders and scientists to implement the recommendations included in this report.