The Science of Sustainability

The Changing Bay: Wetland Restoration Projects in Northern California

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Wetlands — they are possibly the most diverse ecosystems on the plant, according to environmental scientists. In California, they house numerous fish species, including the California killifish, bay goby, striped bass, topsmelt and starry flounder. In addition, insects such as the salt marsh water boatman, wandering skipper, and numerous species of beetles and flies reside in this rich habitat. The state's coastal wetlands are also home to the infamous salt marsh harvest mouse.

Generally speaking, these habitats are the marshes, sand beaches, mudflats and the shallow waters of our rivers and creeks whose soil is saturated with moisture either permanently or seasonally; such areas may also be covered partially or completely by shallow pools of water.

They are also nature’s best defense against climate change and subsequent sea-level rise, because of two important functions they perform: they help reduce the concentrations of greenhouse gases through their ability to sink carbon; and store and regulate water. In other words, they act as sponges absorbing any overflow of water.

The federal government came to understand how biologically productive wetlands are and in 1977 enacted the Clean Water Act, the primary federal law in the US governing water pollution and limiting wetlands destruction. The law also created requirements that if a wetland had to be drained, developers at least had to offset the loss by creating artificial wetlands.

Wetlands have historically been the victim of large-scale draining efforts for real estate development, flooding them for use as recreational lakes or agriculture. Ironically, wetlands absorb and protect the surrounding ecosystem from the polluted run-off coming from the agricultural lands that displaced them.

Since 2000, more than 300 wetland restoration projects have been commissioned, varying in size from the 0.7-acre large 12th Street Reconstruction Project in Alameda County to more than 13,000 acres being restored as a part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project in San Mateo County. However, the collective size of the projects (58,889.5 acres across California) is dwarfed when you consider that the state has lost 95 percent of its wetland habitat in the past 125 years.

Worldwide, it is estimated that by 1993 half of the Earth’s wetlands had been drained, according to a report published in the New Scientist.

Below you’ll find a map detailing the restoration projects taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area that shows information of their size, location and construction status.

View Wetland Restoration Projects–Northern California in a larger map

Listen to The Changing Bay radio report online.

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Category: Climate, Environment, Radio, Water

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About the Author ()

Roberto Daza serves as managing editor for El Tecolote, a newspaper covering San Francisco's Mission district. His involvement in community journalism began in 2008 after visiting the newspaper’s office. He graduated from San Francisco State University in 2008 with a background in neuroscience research and technical writing. During college, Roberto worked as a researcher at UCSF, and in the development field directing public relation campaigns for non-profit organizations such as San Francisco Suicide Prevention. Now he also works as a content intern for KQED’s multi-platform science show, QUEST.