Cost to Restore San Francisco Bay Wetlands - $1.43 Billion

OAKLAND, California, August 28, 2007 (ENS) - Conservationists would like to reestablish 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands around San Francisco Bay, from Vallejo to San Jose, the wetland area they say is needed for a healthy Bay. Today for the first time a price tag has been placed on the massive project.

The conservation group Save The Bay projects that it will cost up to $1.43 billion over 50 years to fully restore 36,176 acres of shoreline property that is already in public ownership and slated for tidal wetland restoration.

Some $370 million has already been invested to acquire property and plan these restoration projects. Completing the planned restoration will nearly double the Bayís tidal marsh area.

To reach the 100,000 acre goal, an additional 22,912 acres would need to be purchased and restored from remaining diked historic baylands and salt ponds, but the costs of acquiring and restoring these acres is not included in the $1.43 billion, the group says in its report.

The natural marshes surrounding San Francisco Bay have been diked and drained to create agricultural fields, salt ponds and filled wetlands for development as the city grew from a rural area to become one of the largest cities in the United States. Today, only five percent of the Bayís original wetlands remain.

"Greening the Bay: Financing Wetland Restoration in San Francisco Bay" identifies inadequate funding as the greatest barrier to reestablishing 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands.

"Today we have a historic opportunity to secure a healthy future for San Francisco Bay for wildlife and people," said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. "With a modest annual average investment over 50 years - equivalent to $4 annually for each Bay Area resident - we can restore thousands of acres of thriving wetlands on the shoreline and reverse more than a century of degradation that reduced the size of our Bay by one-third."

Save The Bay recommends that a combination of local, state and federal dollars should finance the restoration.

The group proposes the immediate establishment of a Bay special district that could explore new ways to explore, promote and coordinate local and regional public fundraising mechanisms, and to develop priorities and sequencing for allocating funds for Bay restoration projects.

To ensure adequate revenue for Bay restoration Save The Bay also recommends state and local resource bonds and other public sources should provide significant funds for Bay restoration.

Bay Area voters have overwhelmingly supported the last four statewide natural resource bonds, yet Bay projects have received just one percent of the $13.5 billion those measures contained for open space and park protection, water quality improvements, acquisition of public lands and wetland restoration.

Of the major Bay wetland restoration projects now in progress, 13,286 acres are located on refuge land.

Federal funding for the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge - which is nationís largest urban wildlife, with 700,000 annual visitors - and six other area refuge units, has not kept pace with the massive increase in its size and land management needs, Lewis points out

Save the Bay urges the San Francisco Bay Area congressional delegation to make full funding of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex a high priority.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in a statement Monday that she welcomes "any mechanism to develop local funding for wetlands restoration."

"I do my level best to get funding for wetlands restoration every year, and I will continue to do so," she said. "But there is only so much federal funding. Wetlands restoration is very costly, and additional federal dollars are very difficult because you have to take it from other projects."

"Wetlands are the lungs of the Bay," the group points out, "giving life to hundreds of fish and wildlife species that depend on them for survival and billions of small organisms that thrive in Bay mud to form the base of the food chain."

Healthy Bay wetlands trap polluted runoff before toxics can reach open Bay water. They act as sponges, slowing down and soaking up large quantities of water runoff during rainstorms and tidal inflow.

Save the Bay cites scientists who have found that tidal salt marshes capture carbon from greenhouse gases in the air efficiently and effectively, helping to counter global warming.

"The Bay is natural treasure that defines our region, provides recreation and beauty, moderates our climate, and generates many millions of dollars in economic benefits. It is a thriving ecosystem that touches nine counties and millions of people, "said Lewis.

"Over the last four decades, dedicated Bay Area residents have overcome overwhelming odds to prevent San Francisco Bay from being destroyed. The Bay needs to be protected and restored as one entity, by and for the whole region," he said. "By securing the funds necessary to fully restore Bay wetlands now, we can make the Bay healthier for people and wildlife long into the future."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.