Project aims to reclaim salt ponds

Wednesday, July 09, 2003 -

MOUNTAIN VIEW -- NASA technology is helping state and federal governments reclaim 15,100 acres of salt evaporation ponds in the South San Francisco Bay as part of the nation's largest restoration projects, say officials at NASA's Ames Research Center.

A group of NASA scientists and technicians is studying salt evaporation ponds by using sensors on satellites and airplanes in addition to surface sampling to learn how restoring the ponds to nearly their natural state may affect local ecology.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game recently purchased a number of salt ponds from the Cargill Salt Company for $100 million. Scientists believe the project will continue for more than 20 years.

"It is the largest tidal-wetland-restoration project in the western United States," said Marge Kolar of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We are using sensors on satellites and aircraft, together with on-site sampling, to evaluate water quality of coastal wetland environments in the southern San Francisco Bay," explained L. Jean Palmer-Moloney, a visiting geography professor from the State University of New York, Onconta. Palmer-Moloney is leading the monitoring effort at Ames.

Bay Area residents have used the salt ponds and the abundant South Bay sunshine to evaporate water and collect salt for more than 100 years, but the process changed the natural habitat of local plants and animals, scientists say.

As a result, the U.S. government, the state of California and other organizations are now working to restore the salt ponds to as close to the original natural habitat as is practical.

San Mateo County Times