South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project

Added by: 
Stephanie Castle
The South Bay Salt Pond (SBSP) Restoration Project is a collaborative effort between state federal and local agencies for habitat restoration, flood management, and public access in 15,000 acres of Cargill’s former salt production lands. The goals of the project are to create, restore, enhance wildlife habitat, maintain and/or improve existing flood protection, provide public access and recreational opportunities, protect and improve existing water quality, protect services provided by existing infrastructure.
  • Since 1800 – Estimates suggest over 80% of San Francisco’s tidal marsh habitat has bee lost to salt pond conversion, agriculture, and urban development.
  • 1936 – Leslie Salt Company produces over 300,000 tons of salt on 12,500 acres in the South Bay
  • 1959 – Leslie Salt Company’s production reaches more than one million tons of salt annually over 26,000 acres of San Francisco Bay
  • 1978 – Cargill acquires Leslie Salt Company and continues salt production
  • October 2000 – Cargill proposed to consolidate their salt pond operations and sell their land and salt production on 61% of it’s operation area in the South Bay.
  • May 2002 – The Framework Agreement was signed by CDFG, USFWS, Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Resource Council, the Wildlife Conservation Board, and Cargill.
  • February 11, 2003 – The purchase of the salt ponds was approved by the state of California
  • June 2003 - The Center for Collaborative Policy (CCP) began working closely with the USFWS, CDFG, and the California Costal Conservancy to develop and implement and extensive public involvement strategy and conducted an extensive stakeholder assessment.
  • Late 2003 – Regular meeting of the Stakeholder Forum begin.
  • February 2004 – SBSP Restoration Project goals and objectives were approved by the Stakeholder Forum.
  • November 9, 2004 – Notice of Intent to prepare EIS/R for the SBSP Restoration Project and Shoreline Study
  • November 15, 2004 – Notice of Preparation was distributed to responsible agencies and the public.
  • November 16-17, 2004 – Scoping meetings held in Moffett Field and Hayward respectively
  • February 27, 2007 - Notice of Completion and Document Transmittal to Appropriate Agencies.
  • March 28 and 29, 2007 – Public hearings were held
  • May 3, 2007 - Public comment periods closed

The South Bay Salt Pond (SBSP) Project is a Draft EIS/R prepared by lead agencies: United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Unites States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). The project encompasses more than15,000 acres of salt pond production land previously owned and managed by Cargill, an international food provider. The ponds are located in the South San Francisco Bay shores, south of the San Mateo Bridge. Before modern Europeans arrived in the San Francisco, the area was composed mostly of tidal marsh, and with this project, the USFWS, USACE, and CADFG hope to restore the area to tidal marsh and non-tidal marsh habitat. Restoration efforts would provide crucial habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and fish, as well as provide recreational opportunities, maintain current levels of flood protection, and improve current water quality. The lead agencies of this project have really made an effort to make public involvement an integral part of the process. They have formed a local government forum which meets with local governments regularly to provide them with updates on the progress of the projects development as well provide a forum for receiving public feedback. Stakeholder forums have also been developed as a source of constant public input on the main components and goals of the project. The project has also set up an extensive adaptive management plan for the restoration project. Because the project would be implemented over a long period of time, an adaptive management plan allows them to be more flexible in their management and more responsive to the changing biological responses of the ecosystem.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in San Francisco, the South San Francisco Bay was dominated by tidal marshes, wide-open tidal mudflats and associated wetlands. It has been estimated that since the 1800’s, over 80 percent of this tidal marsh habitat has been lost to salt pond conversions, urban developments, and agricultural developments. Specifically in the South Bay, 90% of this land has been converted to salt ponds. Various solar salt pond productions have been operating in the San Francisco Bay since the mid 1800’s. In 1936, the Leslie Salt Company began producing 300,000 tons of salt annually over 12,500 acres. In 1959, that number had grown to over one million tons annually over 26,000 acres. In 1978, Cargill purchased the Leslie Salt Company production lands, and salt production has continued at the rate of more than one million tons annually over 26,000 acres. Late in 2000, Cargill announced they would be consolidating salt production and selling off a large amount of production land along with salt production rights. In 2003 the California Resources Agency, Wildlife Conservation Board, CDFG, USFWS, Senator Feinstein and Cargill signed a Framework Agreement which handed over put 61 percent of Cargill’s South Bay production lands. In February of 2003, the State of California approved the purchase of the salt ponds. Since then, the Shoreline Study, an associated project has been conducting research on the current conditions of the land, and recommending actions in regards to habitat restoration and flood management.

Underlying Needs and Purposes
As was stated before, more than 80 percent of the tidal marsh ecosystems of the San Francisco bay have been lost to salt pond conversion, urban developments as well as agricultural developments. This project provides an amazing opportunity to restore some of that natural habitat. These ponds are also increasing in salinity and losing much of their ecological value. Pre-existing dike and levee structures used for salt ponds are deteriorating due to age and neglect. Another important point to make here is that so much of the Bay Area; especially the wetland type habitats have already been heavily developed. The attainment of these lands from Cargill presents a wonderful and RARE opportunity to attempt restoration of San Francisco Bay’s natural tidal marsh habitat.

Proposed Action
The primary goal of the project is to restore and enhance the wetlands to state more similar to historic tidal marsh conditions providing wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, as well as flood protection and water quality improvement. They hope to promote the re-establishment of native wetland plants and wildlife, maintain the area as an area for migratory birds, and promote increased biodiversity of native species. The pre-existing dikes of the salt ponds provide some flood protection for the surrounding areas and those flood protections will remain and may possibly be improved. Public recreational opportunities will be available which will not hinder the goals of re-establishing the native flora and fauna. The project hopes to maintain and improve current levels of water and sediment quality. The management team for the project would also like to make sure that existing infrastructure and the service supplied by existing infrastructure remain.

The scoping process, required when preparing an EIR/S took place on November 16 and 17, 2004, only days after the Notice of Intent to prepare and EIR/S was released. The scoping meetings took place in Moffat Field and Hayward. Comments from both meetings as well scoping comment letters were summarized and included in Appendix A of the document.

Environmental Consequences
Many of the impacts for the project would be considered less than significant since the implementation of an adaptive management plan would avoid almost all possible significant impacts.
Possible impacts include: increased levee erosion, increase in algae levels, increase in net methyl mercury bioaccumulation.
Most of impacts incurred would be due to construction efforts and short term. These impacts could be further reduced with appropriate mitigation.

The USFWS and the CDFG understand that this project will be implemented over many years and that uncertainties exist in phased tidal marsh restoration, so they plan allow for the management framework to be adjusted as the responses of the physical and biological responses of the ecosystem become more fully understood.
The USFWS and the CDFG have set up a malleable management framework to allow for cause and effect connections to be made between management practices, and the biological responses of the targeted ecosystem.

Important Scientific Data
Much of the scientific data used for the project are available at the following websites:

Use of Science
Flood analysis reports, hydrology data and models, flood management data, an infrastructure impact analysis, nutrient and contaminant analysis reports, South Bay geomorphic assessment, hydrodynamic modeling reports, mercury technical memorandums, groundwater analysis reports, transportation studies and plans are just a handful of the resources used in reference for this project. The management team works closely with local and government agencies, scientists, and have put together their own Science team of internationally and locally recognized scientific experts from an array of fields. Many more reports included in the document by reference. The document has an absolutely huge bibliography.

The Draft EIR/S (DEIR/S) is available online at:
The document is available for public inspection at the following locations during regular office hours:

  • San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex
    1 Marshlands Road
    Fremont, CA
    (510) 792-0222
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    1455 Market Street
    San Francisco, CA
    (415) 977-8466
  • California Department of Fish and Game
    Region 3 Headquarters
    7329 Silverado Trail
    Napa, CA
    (707) 944-5500
  • Santa Clara Valley Water District
    5750 Almaden Expressway
    San Jose, CA
    (408) 265-2600
    • The DEIR/S is also available online at the following libraries:

      • Alviso Branch Library
      • City of Mountain View Library
      • Sunnyvale Public Library
      • Hayward Public Library
      • Fremont Main Library
      • Menlo Park Library
      • Palo Alto Main Library
        • Geographic Area: 
          The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is located in the Southern San Francisco Bay of California. There are three separate pond complexes that are part of the project, and all of these are dispersed along the shoreline of the bay, south of the San Mateo Bridge. The total area includes roughly 15,000 acres of salt ponds and their adjacent habitat. The first of the pond complexes is known as Eden’s Landing, and is owned and operated by the California Department of Fish and Game. Eden’s Landing includes 23 ponds, spanning 5,500 acres of the East Bay shore, west of Hayward and Union City in Alameda County. The second pond complex, owned and operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is called the Alviso pond complex. The Alviso pond complex consists of 25 ponds on the shores of the South Bay throughout 8,000 acres of land, through Freemont, San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View, which includes parts of Alameda county and Santa Clara county. The third pond complex is called Ravenswood pond complex, consists of 7 ponds throughout 1,600 acres, and is owned and operated by the USFWS. The Ravenswood pond complex is on the West Bay shore, in the City of Menlo Park in San Mateo County.