Frequently Asked Questions


Q. What is the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project?

A. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. When complete, the restoration will convert 15,100 acres of commercial salt ponds at the south end of San Francisco Bay to a mix of tidal marsh, mudflat and other wetland habitats. The property was purchased by the State of California and the Federal government from Cargill Salt as part of a larger land transaction that includes 1,400 acres of salt crystallizer ponds on the east side of the Napa River. The acquisition of the South Bay salt ponds provides an opportunity for landscape-level wetlands restoration, improving the physical, chemical, and biological health of the San Francisco Bay.

Q. What are the goals of the Project?

A. The goals are to restore and enhance a mix of wetland habitats, to provide wildlife-oriented public access and recreation, and to provide for flood management in the South Bay. See the Project Goals and Objectives.

Restoration Process

Q. Who is managing the Project?

A. The Project Management Team is comprised of the California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (ACFCWCD), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as well as the Lead Scientist and Collaborative Process Coordinator. The Project Management Team is overseeing the restoration planning process which includes habitat restoration, public access, and flood management, and reports to the Executive Leadership Group, made up of high level representatives from DFG, FWS, and SCC. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the SCC, FWS, and DFG was signed on May 28, 2003 and outlined roles and responsibilities. A second MOU that includes SCVWD and ACFCWCD was signed on August 26, 2004. The Project Management Team has adopted a decision making structure for all of the parties involved in the planning and restoration process.

Q. What type of environmental review has the Project undergone?

A. The Project is subject to both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which are state and federal laws, respectively, that require projects to be reviewed for their potential environmental impacts. Once potential environmental impacts are identified, the laws require project sponsors to identify ways to avoid, minimize, and, if necessary, mitigate the impacts, where feasible. The Project has produced a joint Environmental Impact Report (EIR), as required by CEQA, and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by NEPA. View the Final EIS/R.

Q. What is the difference between the "initial stewardship" and the "long-term restoration" and how do the two processes relate?

A. As Cargill phased out salt production, DFG and FWS began initial stewardship of the salt ponds. The objectives of initial stewardship were to protect the existing habitat values of the acquired ponds and to maintain the property so that it could be restored later on. See Initial Stewardship for more information. The long-term restoration plan for the salt ponds was developed while initial stewardship took place. The long-term restoration plan outlines the mix of habitats to be restored or enhanced in the South Bay, and the associated flood management measures and public access improvements, the first phase of implementation of the restoration project, and the adaptive management plan.

Q. Has funding for all stages of the Project been secured?

A. Acquisition: Acquisition of the 16,500 acres of salt ponds and associated habitats in the South Bay and along the Napa River was funded with $72 million from the State Wildlife Conservation Board, $8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $20 million from the Hewlett, Packard, and Moore Foundations and the Goldman Fund.

Restoration: Funds for implementation of the restoration, flood management, and public access plan to date have come from a mix of sources, including local, state, and federal funds, as well as private funds.

Q. What are the plans for funding implementation, how much will implementation cost, and are there mitigation opportunities?

A. Currently, the Project Management Team plans for restoration to be funded by public agencies and foundations. Based on other restoration projects in the Bay Area and depending on the level of construction work needed, the cost could range from the low hundreds of millions to the high hundreds of millions over many decades. Resource and regulatory agencies will decide whether or not some of the implementation funds will come from project sponsors seeking to mitigate impacts to habitats in other parts of the San Francisco Bay.

Wetland Restoration Issues

Q. What are the differences between tidal marsh and managed ponds and what are the wildlife benefits for each in the South San Francisco Bay?

A. Tidal Marshes are vegetated wetlands that regularly receive some tidal action. High quality tidal marshes contain intricate networks of channels through which the tides move in and out of the marsh complex. Tidal marshes in the San Francisco Bay provide critical habitat for an array of species, including young salmon and steelhead trout, shorebirds and waterfowl that forage in the salt pannes, harbor seals who "haul out" on the marshes to breed and raise their young, and endangered birds and mammals like the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse who live only in tidal marshes in the Bay. Managed ponds are shallow open water habitat with no tidal flow or managed tidal flow. These wetlands contain water all or part of the year, have various salinities, and provide feeding and roosting (resting) areas for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other waterbirds. The specific types of birds feeding in a pond depend on the specific conditions in the pond. For example, shorebirds and dabbling ducks like shallow ponds while diving ducks prefer deep water. Certain birds like to feed on brine shrimp and brine flies, which only live in higher salinity ponds, while other birds prefer small fish, which live in the lower salinity ponds. See Fact Sheet #3 for a description of the different habitats in the project area and their benefits to wildlife. Also see the Syntheses of Scientific Knowledge for Maintaining and Improving Functioning of the South Bay Ecosystem and Restoring Tidal Salt Marsh and Associated Habitats over the Next 50 Years at Pond and Pond Complex Scales (PDF).

Q. How will changes in habitats in the South Bay affect endangered species, migratory bird populations, and other wildlife?

A. The Project Management Team expects that restoration of a portion of the salt ponds to tidal marsh and management of the remainder of ponds will benefit a greater diversity of wildlife, particularly endangered species, such as the California clapper rail, the salt marsh harvest mouse and several fish and aquatic species. Managed ponds will continue to provide important feeding and resting habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl-a function that is already provided by some of the existing salt ponds. The alternative development process has included identification of evaluation criteria for wildlife and analysis of how each alternative meets the evaluation criteria. Benefits and impacts of each alternative to wildlife will be described in the EIR/EIS. See the Synthesis of Scientific Knowledge for Managing Salt Ponds to Protect Bird Populations.

Q. Will the restoration project require the use of dredged sediment?

A. The use of large volumes of dredge material is currently not anticipated. There may be a need for some imported materials for levees or other structures, but it is expected that natural sedimentation processes in the South Bay will provide enough sediment for subsided ponds to evolve into tidal marsh once they are opened to the Bay via levee breaches. In addition, by phasing the restoration of tidal marsh over many years, the need for large volumes of sediment is reduced. See Science Synthesis on Sediment Management: Creating desired habitat while preserving existing habitat.

Q. How will water circulation and water quality in the San Francisco Bay be affected by the restoration project?

A. As ponds are opened to the tide, water circulation in the South Bay will be affected and the degree of this effect will depend upon the number and location of ponds that are opened; how subsided the ponds are; and the phasing of the restoration. Effects could include increased water velocity and subsequent erosion of mudflats or marshes, increased amounts of water entering the South Bay, longer residence times for water in the South Bay, greater tidal influence in the sloughs and creeks, and changes in tide levels. The changes in water circulation could have positive or negative impacts on water quality. Negative impacts could include re-suspension of pollutants in Bay muds and increases in residence times for pollutants in the South Bay. Beneficial impacts could include improvements in parameters such as dissolved oxygen and summer water temperatures. Different restoration alternatives will be modeled with an eye toward better understanding these potential impacts and potential ways to mitigate these effects. See Science Synthesis on Hydrological Modifications from Salt Pond Management and Ecosystem Restoration and Science Synthesis on Predicting Pollutant Effects on the Biological Functioning of the South Bay.

Q. What is known of the effects of mercury and other contaminants on wildlife and how will the project address this issue?

A. 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. See the Mercury Technical Memorandum in Documents and Science Synthesis on Predicting Pollutant Effects on the Biological Functioning of the South Bay.

Q. What is “bittern” and is there a plan for storage or discharge of this material?

A. Bittern is a byproduct of salt production and is basically concentrated bay water with the sodium chloride (or salt) removed. While not “toxic,” bittern can be harmful to aquatic species if not diluted. The acquisition area in the South Bay does not include any bittern ponds. However, Cargill is storing and managing bittern in the ponds they continue to operate in the South Bay.

Q. How will flood protection be provided for communities adjacent to the restoration project?

A. The proposed restoration alternatives contain provisions to manage flood hazards from both fluvial (stream) and coastal flood sources. One feature consistent across restoration alternatives is an inboard levee system to reduce the hazards of coastal flooding. This proposed line of flood protection may include existing levees (where adequate), high ground, and new flood protection levees. From a fluvial flood-management perspective, there are two approaches to reducing flood hazards: providing increased channel-flow conveyance or providing increased flood storage (detention). The project uses a conveyance approach where possible, though both approaches may be utilized.

Conveyance can be increased by removing, breaching, or setting back the existing channel levees, widening the channel and providing additional cross-sectional area for flow. Conveyance can also be increased using regular tidal scour to enlarge the channel cross-section. Breaching slough levees will route more tidal flow through the sloughs/channels, resulting in channel deepening and widening downstream of the breaches. The expansion of the cross-section will increase channel flood flow conveyance and thereby reduce upstream water levels and flood hazards without requiring repeated dredging.

Q. Who will build and maintain flood control levees?

A. The Coastal Conservancy and Santa Clara Valley Water District are working collaboratively with the Corps of Engineers to perform the Santa Clara County and Alviso Ponds Feasibility Study. If the Study indicates a cost-effective Federal interest in construction of flood protection levees, Congress may authorize a project to do so. Such an authorized project would be eligible for Federal cost-sharing with a local sponsor. A likely local sponsor for a levee construction project in Santa Clara County would be the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Under this scenario, the Corps of Engineers would construct the levees, and the Water District would then take on the maintenance responsibility for those levees.

Q. How will the Project be coordinated with the wastewater treatment plants in the South Bay?

A. A large amount of fresh water enters the San Francisco Bay from wastewater treatment plants in South Bay cities. The project environmental documents included hydrodynamic modeling of inputs of freshwater to evaluate the impact of the project on such things as salinity, water quality, and water levels. The Project Team is working with local governments in the South Bay and with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to determine if there are any opportunities for collaboration. The Project Management Team does not anticipate that the Project will require recycled water for salinity reduction in the salt ponds (as is proposed for the Napa-Sonoma Marshes restoration project in the North Bay) or that there will be opportunities for the wetlands to be used for wastewater treatment.

Q. What will be done to control invasive species and predators on target species?

A. The restoration project will address the issue of invasive species and predators and develop methods to reduce their impact. Control of introduced species and predators will focus on those species with the greatest impacts on native wildlife and species for which there are effective methods for control. The Project Management Team has worked with the Invasive Spartina Project to determine how to control introduced species of cordgrass or Spartina. See the Science Synthesis: Impact of Invasive Species and Other Nuisance Species.

Q. How will mosquitoes be managed in the project area, especially considering West Nile virus?

A. The Project Management Team is working with the mosquito abatement districts in the South Bay to plan the restoration so that it minimizes the potential for mosquito populations. Marshes with tidal action do not provide good habitat for the two main species of mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus. Mosquito populations can be reduced in other areas by managing wetlands to ensure that water moves through them, designing banks to create more deep-water habitat, and reducing certain types of vegetation. The project team is also working with the mosquito abatement districts to manage mosquito populations during the initial stewardship phase of the project.

Q. What kind of public access will be provided during the first phases of restoration?

A. Phase 1 of restoration includes construction of new trails and trail links, viewing platforms, and, at the Eden Landing ponds, a kayak launch. For more information on parts of the ponds to visit, see here. The Refuge currently provides docent-led presentations and views of the salt ponds from a location adjacent to the restoration site. For more information please contact the Refuge at 510-792-0222. DFG and FWS continue to allow waterfowl hunting on some ponds, though not on a private lease system as was provided by Cargill historically.

Q. When will new public access be provided?

A. The Project has opened 2.9 miles of trails to date, and more are under construction. For construction specifics, see here.

Q. Will the entire site be open to public access once the wetland restoration is implemented?

A. Sensitive wildlife habitat areas will be closed to public access year-round or during breeding seasons.

Q. What types of public access will be provided?

A. The project will include wildlife-oriented public access that is currently allowed on DFG and FWS properties. This includes hiking trails, multipurpose (hiking and biking) trails like the Bay Trail and opportunities for wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, and boating.

Q. How can the potential impacts of public access on wildlife be minimized or avoided?

A. See Science Synthesis on Understanding the Effects of Public Access and Recreation on Wildlife and their Habitats in the Restoration Project Area.

Public, Scientific, and Regulatory Involvement

Q. How can the public stay current with restoration implementation and stay involved in the Project?

A. The project web site, www.southbayrestoration.org, is the central point for information about the project. The site contains meeting notices, agendas, technical reports and extensive background information about the project, including maps and other visual materials. The project also distributes a quarterly electronic newsletter that contains brief updates on the planning process. You can sign up on the web site to receive the newsletter.

Q. Will there be public meetings over the course of the project to keep the public abreast of current issues and decisions and to allow for public input and discussion?

A. Yes. The Project Management Team appointed a Stakeholder Forum, which met regularly to provide high level input on the three major components of the plan: habitat restoration, public access and flood management. The Stakeholder Forum continues to meet annually to provide input on implementation. Forum members represent a broad array of interests from around the Bay. Three more focused geographical Work Groups meet to analyze and provide detailed feedback on issues related to designing and implementing the restoration program. The Work Groups are designed to delve more deeply into issues associated with the restoration and to enhance the diversity of participation in the restoration program. All Stakeholder Forum and Work Group meetings are open to the public. See Events and Meetings for the latest schedule.

Q. Are there volunteer opportunities available to help with the Project?

A. Yes. In addition to volunteering your time by attending workshops and public meetings, there are other ways to get involved:

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers a docent training program periodically. Docents are individuals who will lead public programs designed to introduce the restoration project and its natural and cultural resources. To find out how you can become involved, call 408-262-5513 x106 and ask about the Salt Pond Tour Docent Program.

Also, some project partners have volunteer opportunities. For example, Save The Bay operates volunteer marsh restoration programs at the Eden Landing and Ravenswood ponds.

Schedule a presentation in your community about the restoration project. Contact us at http://www.southbayrestoration.org/contact-us.html to schedule a presentation.

Q. How will local government, agency staff, and elected officials be involved in the restoration planning process?

A. Representatives from local flood control districts currently participate in monthly Project Management Team Meetings to ensure that issues related to flood control and water quality are addressed on an ongoing basis. In addition, local government staff and elected officials participate in the Project’s three local working groups, which meet periodically.

Q. How will long-term restoration project planning be coordinated with state and federal agencies?

A. The Project Management Team checks in regularly with a Regulatory and Trustee Agency Group to ensure that state and federal regulatory agency staff are involved in the project. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to integrate NEPA, CEQA, and state and federal permitting has been signed by all of the state and federal regulatory agencies involved in this project. The MOU provides checkpoints for review of the project by regulatory agency staff.

Q. Who sits on the National Science Panel and the Science Team and what do they do?

A. The National Science Panel was comprised of nationally recognized experts familiar with large-scale wetlands restoration efforts. The Panel’s role was to provide high level science oversight to the overall planning process. The Panel recommended that the project create a core Science Team whose first task should be to develop a science strategy for the restoration planning. Lead Scientist Dr. Laura Valoppi is heading the Science Team which is developing a science strategy for the project. In addition to providing technical support to the Project Partners, the Science Team also consults and advises the Stakeholder Forum (see above). See Science for more information. A complete list of members of both the National Science Panel and Science Team can be found on the project web site.