Friday, August 27, 2010

Napa salt pond restoration - Green Island

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(click on the blog entry title for a San Francisco Chronicle article; I "borrowed" the map and pictures.)

1,400 acres were added to San Francisco Bay on Wednesday--more than two square miles.  (The pictures show the salt pond levees being broken to reconnect the salt ponds with the Bay.)  One of the great things about my plan to bike all the completed segments of the San Francisco Bay Trail is that I've been paying a lot more attention to the large scale restoration projects that are underway.  I've been cycling on the penninsula where 15,000 acres of salt ponds were purchased in 2004 and where many projects are taking place.

But Cargill Salt (formerly Leslie Salt) also owned thousands of acres in the North Bay, from the Napa River west.  Restoration efforts there got a kick off, ironically, after an oil spill at the Shell refinery in Martinez.

According to the Shell Oil Spill Litigation Settlement Trustee Committee (1990-2001) Final Report, "Late in the evening of April 23, 1988, a tank at the Shell Manufacturing complex in Martinez, filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of San Joaquin crude oil, began to leak. A hose, designed to drain water from the roof of the tank, failed. Oil began siphoning out into the containment area surrounding the tank. Unfortunately, a storm water release valve had been left open, and the oil continued to drain into a nearby creek, under the freeway, and down into a marsh now called McNabney Marsh. Oil filled the 100-acre marsh to a depth of more than four inches before flowing under the railroad tracks, past the refinery and chemical plant, and finally out into the Carquinez Strait, upstream into Suisun Bay, and, on the next tide, downstream into San Pablo Bay."

"Due to darkness. it took a while before anyone noticed the spill and a while longer to figure out where it had come from. Workers at the Shell wharf were the first to recognize and report oil on the water.  They didn't know, at first, that it had come from a leaking tank on their own property. Before the source of the spill could be located and stopped, about 400,000 gallons of heavy crude oil had leaked out into the environment."
"When the spill was over, the company responsible had paid nearly $11 million to restore damage to natural resources. Initially, this funding was targeted toward restoring 1,000 acres of wetland, protecting and enhancing the marsh most affected by the spill, restoring recreational areas, and developing approaches to protect one threatened species of plant."

"After eleven years, much more was accomplished. Nearly 3,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or enhanced and nearly 11,000 acres of former marsh have been preserved from development and are available for enhancement and eventual full restoration. Shoreline parks have also been expanded and restored. The environmental and recreational gains have been substantial."  Included in the preservation from the spill penalty was the marsh most affected; it's called McNabney Marsh after the late Al McNabney, a leader in the local Mt. Diablo Audubon chapter, who had pushed for decades for its protection.  McNabney Marsh is part of Waterbird Regional Park, just east of Highway 680 just before you reach the Martinez-Benicia Bridge.  The park was acquired with part of the penalty funding.

Like now, the Bay Area was entering a recession. It took several years to plan the projects which would be undertaken with the penalty funding, which by then had grown to more than $17 million.  Although the agencies overseeing conservation projects had hoped to preserve 1,000 acres, the single largest project funded was purchase of 10,000 acres of salt ponds along the Napa River--available at a much reduced price.

On Wednesday one of the last big milestones there was reached when the 1,400-acre Green Island salt pond levees were breached, and bay waters allowed to return, nearly 100 years after the area was first diked off for farming, then salt production.

You can read more about the Shell oil spill penalty projects at: 

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