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South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
May 2011   Volume 25

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
Upcoming Events and Meetings
Complete listing here

Wetlands Restoration: The 50-year Journey
Sunday, June 12, 11:00 - 12:00
Sunday, July 24, 11:00 - 12:00
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR Environmental Education Center, Alviso

Follow the progress of the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast. Learn about the 50-year plan to restore a mix of wetlands habitats to the South Bay. Program will begin indoors but will move outside via an easy .25-mile trail to a view of the salt ponds. All are welcome!

Why Tides Matter
Saturday, June 25, 10:00 - 11:00

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR Environmental Education Center, Alviso

Docent Laurel Stell will talk and walk you through all things tides. What are they? How do they affect wildlife? How have humans reshaped the Bay's tidal lands? Program starts indoors but will move outside for an easy 0.5-mile walk. All are welcome.

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project Exploring the Refuge by Bike
Saturday, July 16, 10:00 - 1:00
Saturday, August 20, 10:00 - 1:00

Bring your bike and join docent Steve Dill on a 9-mile journey to learn about the history, biology and restoration of the Refuge's salt pond landscape. This trail will appeal to both bicyclists and birders. Ride is moderately strenuous over unpaved but level levees. Helmets requested. Binoculars and camera encouraged. Reservations required at 510-792-0222 x139. Rain cancels.

Tour of Ravenswood Ponds
Saturday, July 16, 11:00am
Saturday, August 13, 11:00am

Docent Jane Moss will lead you on a 1-mile walk through the ever-changing panoramas surrounding a former salt pond. Learn about the exciting ways this area is being reshaped as newly created wildlife habitat. Trail is easy and level. All ages and abilities welcome. For information, please call 510-792-0222 x139

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Photo Credits: Gull photo by Michael Kern, other photos by Judy Irving.

Avocets and Plovers Nesting at Pond SF2!

It didn't take long for American avocets and Western snow plovers to find the new habitat at Pond SF2. Less than a year after completing construction on nesting islands and a managed pond system just south of the Dumbarton Bridge, managers report the birds are here. As of last week, 108 American avocet nests and 4 Western snowy plover nests were spotted by biologists at the Refuge.

The newly created habitats at Pond SF2 were designed to produce nesting and resting areas for species that have come to rely on the ponds created by years of salt harvesting operations along the edge of the Bay. Creating habitat for pond-loving species like avocets and plovers enables project managers to restore other salt ponds to tidal marsh. The arrival of these birds is a hopeful sign, particularly because we expected the nesting islands to remain empty for a few years before actually being used.

Currently, half of the avocet nests are located on just one of the 30 nesting islands created by the restoration project. The nesting season usually lasts until late June or early July. With binoculars, the public can view the birds sitting on their nests and chicks foraging in the ponds with their parents. The best location to view the new residents is from the first of two newly constructed viewing platforms along the trail that leads from a parking lot at the western end of the bridge.

Earth Day Volunteers Make A Huge Difference

In celebration of this year's 41st Earth Day event, the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge partnered with Save the Bay on a volunteer event at Pond SF2. Over eighty volunteers and staff gathered at the site near the Dumbarton Bridge to remove invasive vegetation, plant native species and haul away trash.

Last fall, Save the Bay began working on a native plant restoration project along the levees at SF2. Thanks to their work, volunteers have planted over 3,000 gumplant seedlings, a native plant that provides valuable cover for endangered marsh species. For these plants to grow, it is important to weed out the competing non-native vegetation. But it takes a lot of volunteer hands to get the job done!

On Earth Day, seasoned Refuge volunteers, staff and interns worked alongside the public sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. By the end of the day, they had removed over 2000 pounds--more than a ton--of an invasive iceplant from the levee! Volunteers also collected over two truckloads of trash that was pulled from the fence near Highway 84. Highlights from the trash pile included the topper to a pick-up truck, coolers, and construction waste.

For the third straight year, Caltrans provided a dumpster for the cleanup. Their continued participation has been invaluable - saving us both time and money. Shimmick Construction, the lead contractor on the Dumbarton Bridge retrofit project, also assisted with the effort by securing a safe work and staging area near the bridge. We are tremendously grateful to all the volunteers who took time out to make the day such a huge success.

Putting the Finishing Touches on Eden Landing

The earthmovers are back to work at ponds E8A, E8X and E9 on the Eden Landing portion of the project managed by the California Department of Fish and Game. Manager John Krause reports that the project is on track to open up 630 acres of former salt ponds to tidal action in the fall. The project will host an event to celebrate the breaching of the levees around these ponds. Stay tuned for details.

Tide Gates Completed at Pond A8!

Next week we will celebrate the completion of work at Pond A8 in Alviso with a small celebration at the pond. It was only a year and a half ago that managers broke ground on the restoration of this former industrial salt pond. Pond A8 will soon be connected to the tidal waters of Alviso Slough creating 1400 acres of new open water habitat for a variety of fish species including Northern anchovy, Pacific herring, Long fin smelt as well as pelicans, cormorants and ducks.

Because Pond A8 contains relatively high levels of historic mercury compared to other ponds on the project site, the opening to the pond includes a large weir or gate that project managers can open in increments to control the amount of water flowing into and out of the pond. This particular pond will serve as the centerpiece for a series of monitoring studies that will take place over the coming years. Depending on the outcome of contaminant and levee scour monitoring, the pond will eventually be restored to salt marsh, creating habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and other wildlife.

EPA Awards Large Grant for Restoration of Ponds A16 and A17

Last month, project managers met with the public to discuss revising and refining the restoration design at Ponds A16 and A17 and to obtain feedback on the location of future trails. Ultimately these ponds will be restored to create a mixture of tidal wetlands and shallow water habitat with nesting islands for shorebirds such as avocets and stilts.

Under the revised design, Pond A17, which was originally slated to become a managed pond, will be restored to full tidal marsh providing wetland habitat at the mouth of Alviso Slough. While the current loop trail on the bayside levee will be removed, access to the Bay's edge will remain. The revised restoration and public access plan calls for the creation of a loop trail around Pond A16, which will provide public access to a variety of pond and wetland habitats.

The designs for these ponds are closer to becoming reality thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In March US EPA awarded the California State Coastal Conservancy $725,000 from the 2010 San Francisco Bay Area Water Quality Improvement Fund program. The Fund, which is administered by EPA, was created to help restore the nation's lost tidal wetland habitats.

We Need Your Help Tracking California Gulls!

As reported in previous newsletters, the dramatic growth of California gulls in the San Francisco Bay Area poses a challenge to the restoration project because these birds have been observed eating the chicks and eggs of Snowy plovers and other water birds. The gulls also crowd out nesting habitat for other bird species. As part of our ongoing restoration work, Pond A6 was opened to tidal action last December. This means the 23,000 pairs of gulls that were nesting at the pond are now looking for a new place to call home. Project scientists need your help in finding new gull colonies both in the Bay and beyond. Gulls can nest on islands, piers and levees. Activity you may see at a breeding colony includes carrying nesting material or delivering food to mates or young. The public can also help by identifying banded California gulls. Since 2008, more than 1,000 California gulls have been banded with a metal band on their right leg and a large alphanumeric band on their left leg. For more information and photos as well where to send your sightings please visit the banded and nesting links on the project web site.

Faces of the Restoration:
Eric Mruz

Eric Mruz has served as the Refuge Manager for the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge since January of 2009, a position that puts him a the very center of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

  • What were you doing before you became Refuge Manager?
    I worked at the Refuge as Wildlife Refuge Specialist for 5 years.
  • And before that?
    I worked on San Clemente Island, which is one of the Channel Islands, in Southern California. I was a biologist for the Institute for Wildlife Studies. We conducted predator research and management for Loggerhead shrikes and the San Clemente island fox. Both species were declining in numbers due to habitat loss and predation.
  • Did you grow up in the Bay Area?
    No, I grew up in Minnesota. I studied biology in college and then kicked around on a few different jobs before heading to Southern California to take the job on the Island. While I was working there, I met my future wife. She was there doing archeological fieldwork and we continued to date after our work was done on the Island. I started looking for work up here and that's when Clyde Morris hired me. I'm not sure why, but he did!
  • What has been the most exciting aspect of working on the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration for you?
    The most exciting part is the restoration itself. The rest of my job is administration and staff related, but with the restoration I get to see things happening on the ground on a landscape scale that I never would have thought possible.
  • What aspects of the restoration are you most excited about?
    The first was in 2004 when we installed the water control structures as part of the Interim Stewardship Plan and began to reduce the salinity of the ponds. All of a sudden there was a huge influx of bird life into the project area. After seeing almost nothing out there on some of the ponds for years, suddenly there were hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and ducks on the water. The other aspect of the restoration that really impresses me is the increasing tidal prism of the South Bay. I see the southern part of the Bay as one chamber of the heart and if we can make this chamber healthy by removing levees, opening up the prism and increasing flows then it will start pumping again and everything will change. We're already seeing this. Invertebrate species and fish species that haven't been here in years are returning again--the heart is starting to pump.
  • What has been the most challenging aspect of the restoration?
    Dealing with all the partners - there are so many people in the Bay Area to deal with and everyone seems to have an opinion about every aspect of the restoration. It is a lot of work to keep up with all the construction, permitting and regulatory demands.
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
    I suppose it's the opportunity to get up and help wildlife. Most people work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for that reason. It does give me a sense of pride that when I go to work, I am helping to repair the Bay.
  • What do you like to do to when you are not working at the Refuge?
    My wife and I bought a house a couple years ago, so we tend to spend a lot of time working in the yard, landscaping and taking care of the place. We do go camping every now and then.
  • What is happening at the Restoration Project now that surprises you?
    Most recently, it would be the birds nesting at pond SF2. We didn't expect to see any nesting activity for two or three years and suddenly we've got over 100 avocets and a handful of plovers using the islands. The other surprise for me was the rapid influx of sediment and vegetation taking hold at the Island Ponds, which was also not predicted to happen so quickly.
  • Looking back a decade from now, what is your hope for the Restoration?
    That we continue to move forward toward our goal. It takes a lot of money and time to restore these ponds to tidal habitat or managed pond habitat. The project is still in its infancy and I would like to see the restoration process continue into the future, whatever that means.

Shoreline Study Looks for Solutions to South Bay Flooding

Last fall, the US Army Corps of Engineers completed an analysis of areas along the South Bay shoreline that are currently at risk for flooding. The analysis was part of the South Bay Shoreline Study, a multi-agency effort to identify flood control and habitat improvement projects that should receive federal funding.

The hydrologic modeling conducted by the Corps showed that 4 out of the 14 subareas in the Study showed high potential for damage during flooding. The Study has now moved from analyzing the problem to coming up with potential solutions. Starting with a portion of the South Bay shoreline from Guadalupe Slough to Coyote Creek, the Shoreline Study will analyze a variety of solutions from raising the height of structures located in the flood zone to constructing new levees and tide gates. They will also examine opportunities for habitat restoration. The final analysis is expected to take up to three years to complete. The Corps will then submit a final report to Congress with a request to fund any recommended projects. Depending on the outcome of this analysis, the South Bay Shoreline Study could ultimately provide critical funding for the next phase of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

Once the Guadalupe Slough to Coyote Creek analysis is complete, two of the other high-risk subareas - Barron Creek to Adobe Creek and Stevens Creek to Sunnyvale West Creek - may be addressed in future projects under the Shoreline Study. The third subarea - Matadero Creek to Barron Creek - is now being addressed by the Corps under the San Francisquito Creek Study.

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