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Publication Date: Friday, May 30, 2003

Salt ponds offer mountainous project Salt ponds offer mountainous project (May 30, 2003)

"Everglades of the West" to encompass Mountain View

By Anna Thompson

The restoration of 25 square miles of salt ponds around South San Francisco Bay -- the biggest project of its kind in West Coast history -- could take up to 100 years to complete. "This is our Everglades of the West," said Clyde Morris. the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's director of the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge.

The Mountain View City Council recently took a field trip to view the ponds and hear more about the ongoing restoration process. More than 15,100 acres of salt ponds in the South Bay alone will be cleaned up and have saltwater flows reintroduced; the city may be directly affected by the undertaking. Salt pond A1, which the council saw first hand, is adjacent to Mountain View.

Kevin Woodhouse, the city's environmental manager, said the lengthy and involved restoration process will include public input. Right now, said Woodhouse, the city is evaluating different uses for different ponds, but much is still undecided. "The process is just starting," he said.

Morris said a five-year planning process is currently underway. The Fish and Wildlife Service is using an adaptive management strategy in its restoration process. Adaptive management means that the government agency will restore a small area initially and then adjust its rebuilding strategy accordingly to the rest of the ponds.

Possible uses of the land could include biking, hiking, hunting, fishing and bird watching. Council member Rosemary Stasek, who attended the showing, said that overall there has been community support for access to the Bay Trail. Morris said he has also heard the most discussion around where public access will be allowed through the land.

Another topic of discussion concerns wildlife in the area. Staesk said the challenge with the project will be to balance human access with animal needs. Currently, duck hunting is allowed in the area. "Mountain View is a hot spot for bird species," said Stasek.

Morris said the ponds have the highest density of ducks in the Bay Area, as well as the largest colony of endangered least terns in northern California. Every year 1 million shorebirds migrate through the area. For birds, the ponds are a virtual "gas station of the Bay Area," said Morris.

For those engineering the restoration process, halting salt production is a concern. Water brought into A1 moves from pond to pond -- from Mountain View to Sunnyvale - evaporating along the way as it makes salt. It takes five years for the evaporation of water to result in a two-story-high mountain of salt. Since 1854 these ponds have been used for commercial salt production.

The problem, said Morris, is that the high salinity in the engineered ponds can kill wildlife. The plan is to retrofit the ponds near Mountain View so that they no longer make salt. The ponds in Fremont and Newark, however, will continue their original commercial function. "How do you prevent commercial salt buildup from a system that was built that way?" said Morris.

In February, the state approved the purchase of the property for $100 million from Cargill, the multinational chemical company that owned the land. The California State Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game will manage the project collaboratively.

E-mail Anna Thompson at intern@mv-voice.com


 

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