Reshaping the Bay

Beautiful restored wetlands, coming to a part of the SF Bay near you? (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Beautiful restored wetlands, coming to a part of the SF Bay near you? (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

At our 50th Anniversary celebration in 2011, I was struck and impressed on hearing former Environmental Protection Agency head William Reilly describe the saving of San Francisco Bay as one of the signature environmental achievements of the 20th Century. He was standing in a small crowd in front of Sylvia McLaughlin, one of Save The Bay’s famous founders.

We are still building on and learning from our founders’ work. In fact, when I introduce Save The Bay’s current policy efforts around pollution prevention and stopping Bay fill, I invariably refer back to our founders achieving what they did without much of a template for grassroots environmental activism and without many of the laws or government agencies – including the EPA – that we all take for granted today.

But there’s a third area of Save The Bay’s work that our founders likely dreamed of but were not able to address on any scale: the restoration of the Bay.

Our science-based tidal marsh restoration programs are models for other projects around the Bay and around the country. Through these programs, we give community volunteers and local schools the opportunity to directly restore the shoreline alongside our restoration and education experts. We back up this on-the-ground restoration work with policy and advocacy efforts like our recently-launched For The Bay initiative to mobilize thousands of Bay Area residents who care about the Bay in support of the bold goal of re-establishing 100,000 acres of tidal marsh around the Bay. 100,000 acres is the minimum number scientists say we need for the Bay to thrive.

Recently, Paul Rogers wrote a terrific piece in the Mercury News about the modern reshaping of San Francisco Bay. We are so focused here on juggling the many details, large and small, involved in advancing this work that we sometimes fail to properly capture the scale and significance of this for the general public. That is not a weakness that we share with Paul Rogers:

The aquatic renaissance is already the largest wetlands restoration project ever completed in the Bay Area, turning back the clock 150 years and transforming the area between Vallejo and Sonoma Raceway, despite little public awareness because of the distance from the Bay Area’s large cities.

“It’s a stunning achievement,” said Marc Holmes, program director with the Bay Institute, an environmental group in San Francisco. “It’s a phenomenal ecological restoration, one of the most important coastal wetlands projects ever done in the United States.”

The restoration — encompassing an area as big as 8,500 football fields — is also offering a road map for similar projects now underway in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, particularly the massive restoration of 15,100 acres of former Cargill Salt ponds that extend from Hayward to San Jose to Redwood City.

It’s a great article. I hope you will read it, including the great visuals, and share it widely. Because this work is of vital importance for the Bay and brings such a broad array of public benefits: habitat restoration for threatened species; jobs for workers and flood protection for businesses; public recreation for people who love to walk, jog and bike by our beautiful Bay. I only hope that we are living up to the vision and daring of Save The Bay’s founders in working to ensure that this restoration project is finished as soon as possible.