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A before and after shot of pond A21. Courtesy of Cris Benton/South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. --Photographer: Cris Benton/South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
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Former Industrial Ponds in S.F. Returned to Nature
SUNDAY DEC 05 2010

On Monday, Dec. 6th at 10 a.m. PST near Palo Alto, California, a carefully engineered flood will begin the process of habitat restoration for a patch of land that has long served human industry.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project -- a multiagency group that includes USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service among its leaders -- will perform a “pond breach” on Pond A6. This tract is among 15,100 acres in San Francisco Bay formerly operated for salt production by Cargill, a global food production corporation.

“This is the first phase of a large restoration experiment,” says WERC researcher Laura Valoppi, who serves as the project lead scientist for the multiagency group. “If all goes well, this 330-acre tract will gradually develop into a full tidal marsh ecosystem over the course of the coming decade.”

As a whole, the project is the largest tidal wetland restoration project in the West Coast. In 2003, the salt ponds were purchased from Cargill with funds from federal and state agencies, private foundations and congressional appropriations championed by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Google Map of Pond A6. Layers courtesy of South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. --Photographer: Google Inc./South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
CLICK TO ZOOM IN: Pond A6 is located near major campuses such as Stanford University and Google. Image courtesy of Google/South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

In the past few months, Pond A6 has been undergoing careful preparation, including leveling and channeling. Once its levees are breached on Monday, bay waters will flood this once-isolated pond. Sediment will slowly accrue, providing a bed for the growth of marsh vegetation.

Watch the WERC presentation and film Wetland Revival, which profiles the salt pond project (film begins at the 20:30 mark)

It will have been about 150 years since these tracts were originally converted from marshland into salt ponds.

“San Francisco Bay’s wetlands are home to a great diversity of fish and wildlife,” says Valoppi. “We are restoring these salt ponds to the habitat they were originally -- salt marsh habitat. Each restored marsh will provide local communities with ecosystem services, such as sediment trapping, enhanced flood protection and wildlife habitat for endangered marsh species and estuarine fish.”

Along with other federal and state researchers, WERC lead scientists John Takekawa and Josh Ackerman will monitor the chemical and biological trends of the restored marsh as part of the adaptive management approach to this long-term restoration. Studies being conducted as part of this first phase of restorations will provide essential science for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the other resource managers in understanding how to best conduct future restorations.

-- Ben Young Landis

Top: In time, the restored A6 tract could look like the A21 tract pictured here in this kite-taken aerial photo. A21 gained a cover of marsh plants in a little over one year. Image courtesy of Cris Benton/South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

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