Monday, August 2, 2004

Tidal action

THE RETURN of tidal water to South Bay salt ponds marks the beginning of a new future for the defining feature of the Bay Area—the bay.

As of last week, workers had opened dike gates to allow natural tidal ebbs and flows to wash through 4,000 acres of commercial salt ponds, a rhythm unknown to those wetlands for decades.

Come spring, more salt ponds will be flooded as federal and state agencies, assisted by philanthropic foundations, embark on a decades-long project to make a better environment for the bay's waterfowl, fish and the 7.5 million residents of its shores.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who pushed through legislation in 2002 to buy the 15,000 acres of salt ponds, notes: “This is the first step in the largest wetlands restoration undertaken in California history. The public- private partnership that made it possible will benefit many generations of Californians to come.”

Project managers have until 2007 to map out a plan to bring back the marshes to their natural condition, but there's already a benefit: A much livelier bay, with more access for hikers, bikers, birders and hunters; more nesting and feeding areas for birds and wildlife.

The biggest benefit is one you can see: Acres of open space amid a metropolis—and it's here, only in the Bay Area.

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©2004 San Francisco Chronicle