Celebrate Sonoma’s shoreline this Bay Day

San Pablo Bay borders just a few square miles of Sonoma County, but its significance to locals is far greater than the area it covers.

It is part of our identity — after all, don’t we in Sonoma County refer to ourselves as the North Bay?

We rely on the Bay for recreation and the health of our economy. Its tidal wetlands sequester carbon, provide habitat for endangered and threatened species, filter bay waters, and protect us from sea level rise. The Bay is an extension of our open space — and as such, we at Sonoma Land Trust aim to protect it for future generations.

That is the motivation behind our Sears Point Restoration Project. After purchasing the property in 2005, Sonoma Land Trust began planning and fundraising to bring the tides back to 1,000 acres of former wetland at Sears Point, which neighbors the Sonoma Raceway and overlooks the Bay.

The project took 10 years, $17.9 million and the efforts of our amazing partners. The land was diked to create farmland in the mid-1800s and remained dry until Oct. 25, 2015, when we joined our partners and supporters to look on as we breached the levee and the waters of San Pablo Bay came rushing into to fill the tidal basin.

Photo by Michael Woolsey
Photo by Michael Woolsey

We immediately saw the effects of the returning tides.  Within a few days, shorebirds and waterfowl had already flocked to the restoration site. After the levee breach, the site was closed to the public for a few months while construction — which included a new 2.5-mile section of Bay Trail — was completed and finishing touches were put in place.

The Bay Trail was opened to the public on May 15, 2016, and the land was transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, becoming part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The site will take 20 to 30 years to shift from open water to a fully vegetated marsh — but, thanks to that new section of Bay Trail, it is a process that Bay Area residents can now bear witness to as they walk, hike or cycle for fun or to work.

Sonoma Land Trust formed a docent program for those who love and want to learn more about the Bay. Every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., docents are stationed at the site with birding scopes, ready to impart their wisdom, dispense knowledge, or simply walk with visitors along the trail.

We are also celebrating Bay Day on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Sears Point! Local expert Roger Leventhal will give us a look into the future of the Bay, and teach us about climate change adaptation strategies as climate change continues to raise sea levels.

Afterwards, we will join the docents for a walk along the marsh. Whether you show up early for the talk or drop in for the marsh hike, it is a great way to celebrate Bay Day — and show how much you love the Bay.

Photo by Lance Kuehne
Photo by Lance Kuehne

This blog was written by Nicole Na, Sonoma Land Trust Communications Coordinator. 

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.

News Roundup: The Future of Restoring SF Bay

 

Point of contact: Tides rush in at Sears Point on October 25, 2015. (Photo Credit: Marc Holmes/The Bay Institute)

After over 100 years, the Sonoma Land Trust achieved a major success in wetland restoration this past weekend: breaching the levee at Sears Point to reconnect 1,000 acres of wetlands to San Francisco Bay. This timely event comes within a week of the recently released update to the 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Report, in which scientists urge accelerated restoration efforts over the next few decades in order to save over 80% of wetlands in the next 100 years.

We can only achieve this goal by acting now: if we continue to waver, the reality of climate change and rising sea levels would not only drive up the cost of restoration, but also place the ecosystem and communities of San Francisco Bay in a more vulnerable state. Projects like Sears Point are a crucial reminder to what we can do to improve health of the Bay; with over 30,000 acres of public land awaiting restoration, the major barrier is funding. That’s why we are supporting the Clean and Healthy Bay ballot measure in 2016, which will provide the resources needed to restore more of our Bay.

Here are some of the articles we think are integral to the conversation about the Bay’s future:

Ceremony near San Pablo Bay marks planned rebirth of wetlands
After 10 years of planning and three years of site preparation, it took less than a minute Sunday for workers to scrape a hole in a levee and begin the renewal of 1,000 acres of former North Bay marshlands. The mechanical excavator scooped aside a few buckets of dirt. Muddy water spurted and then flowed into the waiting basin. Now all that’s needed is time.

San Francisco Bay: Bird populations doubled since 2003 in vast salt pond restoration area
In a clear sign that the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast is already improving the health of San Francisco Bay, bird populations have doubled over the past 13 years on thousands acres of former industrial salt-evaporation ponds that ring the bay’s southern shoreline, scientists reported Thursday.

San Francisco Bay: Race to build wetlands is needed to stave off sea-level rise, scientists say
San Francisco Bay is in a race against time, with billions of dollars of highways, airports, homes and office buildings at risk from rising seas, surging tides and extreme storms driven by climate change. And to knock down the waves and reduce flooding, 54,000 acres of wetlands — an area twice the size of the city of San Francisco — need to be restored around the bay in the next 15 years.

Mercury News editorial: San Francisco Bay wetlands need to be restored
At stake are billions of dollars worth of highways, airports, businesses and homes on land immediately adjacent to the Bay. Water levels have already risen 8 inches since 1900, and they are expected to rise another foot in the next 20 years and two feet by 2050. It may not sound like much, but it could be disastrous.

Restoring wetlands is a green defense against rising bay
Editorial by California Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) — Climate change will harm people from all nations. But one segment of humanity is on the front lines: the poor. From the increased frequency of mega-storms like the one that devastated the Philippines in 2013 to rising seas displacing people of low-lying nations such as Bangladesh, it is the poor who will lose their homes first and suffer the gravest misfortunes.

What can you do to help wetland restoration in San Francisco Bay? Support an upcoming ballot measure that will fund over $500 million dollars to protect the Bay’s shoreline.