Here's how East Bay tidal marsh is becoming key in fight against climate change

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
East Bay tidal marsh becoming living lab
Tidal marsh Dutch Slough is being restored and quickly becoming a powerful living laboratory for climate and environmental research.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For project manager Katie Bandy, little Dutch Slough is a big success story. The California Department of Water Resources and its partners are restoring a vibrant tidal marsh in an ongoing project ultimately stretching across more than 1,100 acres near Oakley, in eastern Contra Costa County. The site is quickly becoming a powerful living laboratory for climate and environmental research.

"We have a lot that we can learn from this site, whether it's carbon sequestration. Soil accretion, things like what species are using our sites," Bandy points out.

For researchers like Ariane Arias-Ortiz, Ph.D., from the UC Berkeley Biometeorology Lab, the slough is already generating valuable data that could help in the fight against climate change. It's gleaned from sensors placed on a three-level tower that monitor Co2, methane and other variables to help determine the levels of greenhouse gasses being sequestered by the tidal marsh.

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"The thing is that wetlands, they have water. So these organic matter or this plant matters that the posit dome soils stay there for long term, meaning that all the Co2 doesn't go back to the atmosphere, but gets stored in the ground," explains Arias-Ortiz.

And in a nod to citizen science, she's also enlisted the help of local students to bury tea bags in the marsh, to help measure how well the organic matter helps carbon decompose.

Nearby, a separate group of researchers from UC Davis led by Jason Riggio, Ph.D., are placing ground covers that will ultimately attract some of the creatures they want to study, to learn more about their relationship to the wetlands.

"We are serving across all vertebrate species. So birds bats, larger mammals with camera traps, anything with a backbone that moves through this marsh, we're trying to find out where they are and how they're using this habitat," says Riggio.

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Bandy says engineers breached the levees around the slough a little less than a year ago. Teams also planted thousands of native Tule plugs, along with trees and shrubs to accelerate the area's recovery and speed its regeneration into a living, breathing tidal marsh.

"And what that did for us was it gave us an immediate response for wildlife. The wildlife queued in immediately before we breached, but the vegetation came in so rapidly that we just got that immediate response," she says.

Ultimately, Dutch Slough may be one of the most successful and scenic laboratories in the Bay Area. Generating scientific data and new clues that could help wetland restoration projects around the Bay, restoring habitats, and creating powerful new carbon sinks, to capture greenhouse gasses and help fight climate change.

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