When I was recently in San Francisco, I was astonished to learn that over the last century the Bay has lost more than 85 percent of its tidal wetlands. So I took a tour with Jane Diamond, EPA’s water director for the Pacific Southwest region, of the restoration work being done in the South Bay to convert industrial salt ponds back into tidal wetlands and other habitats.
We visited the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we enjoyed a cool morning in the Bay area along with dozens of bikers, dog walkers, and birders in this urban refuge. The sites I visited are on the southwest side of San Francisco Bay near the Peninsula towns of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. It was an interesting contrast to have these natural resources next to urban landmarks, such as the world headquarters for Facebook.
Eric Mruz, the Refuge Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) who led the tour, explained that this effort is the largest tidal wetlands restoration project on the West Coast. I was impressed to learn that the project will restore more than 15,000 acres of critical wetland habitat. The restoration of these sites has been underway for a decade and will take several more to complete, but I could already see clear progress. By restoring natural flows from the Bay and letting the tides supply the sediment and nutrients, FWS has created thousands of acres of tidal marsh habitat for a great diversity of wildlife, including the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, as well as the threatened Western Snowy Plover.
I know that this work is vital to offsetting some of the 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands that are being lost on average each year in the United States. By re-establishing these wetlands to act as giant natural sponges in addition to constructing a series of protective levees, the project will also vastly improve flood protection for all South Bay communities, including Alviso, a small community in north San Jose which has a severe flooding problem. This flooding protection is becoming all the more essential as the Bay water level rises due to climate change.
Our Agency has been privileged to support this program through a competitive grant program called the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund. The Fund has invested over $27 million in 48 projects to restore wetlands and watersheds, and reduce polluted runoff in the Bay area. We are delighted to work with our colleagues at FWS and other federal, state and local partners to restore an area the size of Manhattan into a healthy ecosystem and improve access to this fantastic resource for the people of Northern California. If you are in the area, I encourage you to visit these extraordinary wetlands.
Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.