Levee breach marks key step in wetlands restoration


Dozens of photographers and conservationists gathered to watch one big machine dig one little hole breaching the levee that separates a dried-up salt pond from the waters of San Francisco Bay.

"As the tides start coming in, filling in the pond, we'll start bringing in the seeds to start growing those plants, we'll start bringing in the wildlife behind them as the plants grow," said associate wildlife biologist John Krause.

For years, this pond and others like it were used for manufacturing salt. But with just a few strokes of a massive shovel, the California Department of Fish and Game will turn it back into coastal wetlands and a home for endangered species of birds, fish and mice.

"It's important for the health of the bay. Over the last decade, San Francisco Bay has lost 80 to 90 percent of its tidal marshes," said executive project manager John Bourgeois.

Before the breach, the salt pond looked like a dry, barren desert, and of course, it was covered in salt, but it took just a little digging to change all that. In an instant, the bay water that was held back for years, rushes in and nature does the rest.

"We move the levees out of the way and let the tidewater back in, and that's the magic ingredient. The tidewater has the mud in it, it's got the seeds in it, and it just kind of takes care of itself," said Ducks Unlimited engineer Austin Payne.

It will take only a few days to fill the pond with water and only a few years before it becomes a thriving habitat.

"It says that nature is resilient and certainly while we modify the landscape, nature's got a driving force that will bring back all these species," said Krause.

All of the water is a proverbial drop in the bucket since it is 600 of the 15,000 total acres the state plans to restore, over a period lasting as long as 50 years.

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