The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. When complete, the project will restore 15,100 acres of industrial salt ponds to a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other habitats.

On June 12, Friends of the San Francisco Estuary presented an award to the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors for the water district’s partnership role in the restoration project. Mitch Avalon, president of the Friends of the San Francisco Estuary board praised the district’s leadership in water issues, saying that the water district is the “best of the best.”

Water District Board and Board members of Friends of the Estruary
(L to R) Dir. John L. Varela, Dir. Nai Hsueh, Dir. Tony Estremera, Chair Richard P. Santos, CEO Norma Camacho, Mitch Avalon, Charles Batts, Vice Chair Linda J. LeZotte, Dir. Barbara Keegan, Dir. Gary Kremen

As part of our commitment to protecting our environment and working to restore habitat along creeks and the bay, the water district is one of the major partners of the salt pond restoration project.

As a project partner, the water district converted approximately 500 acres of former salt ponds, referred to as the “Island Ponds,” to tidal marsh, in 2006. As one of the first completed elements of the restoration project, the Island Ponds restoration has exceeded all expectations, with endangered species returning to the ponds, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, pictured above.

The district has also provided $2.6 million to support scientific investigations to study mercury impacts to the environment. From the restoration project’s website:

Mercury and other contaminants in the South Bay have the potential to reduce the reproductive success of wildlife, such as the California clapper rail. Tidal marsh restoration can sometimes cause methylation of mercury, which makes the element more available for absorption into the food chain. The restoration project will identify locations of mercury ‘hotspots’ and other contaminants in the South Bay and will study and attempt to reduce the potential for mercury methylation and other contaminant problems in the restoration design.

One of those mercury hotspots is the pond known as Pond A8. In 2010, the district completed construction of tide gates in the pond, allowing tidal flows to reach 1,400 acres of ponds that were previously shut off from the bay. The two photos below depict the opening of the first gate in June 2011 and how the scientific investigations effort led to the full opening of the gates in June 2017, six years later.

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The progress of the Pond A8 project has been encouraging. One of the concerns was that steelhead might swim into the pond and be trapped. Fortunately, no stranded steelhead have been observed. And the mercury studies, which are continuing, have shown that there have been no long-term impacts to mercury levels.

Friends of the San Francisco Estuary was created in 1991 with the mission of protection, restoration and enhancement of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary through the implementation of a comprehensive management plan called the Estuary Blueprint.

To see the progress of this inspiring project yourself, you can visit various restored ponds throughout the South Bay.

 

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