Baykeeper Update

Saying No to Building Condos and Offices on South Bay Wetlands

Baykeeper recently took new action in a long-running fight to prevent development on 1,365 acres of former south San Francisco Bay wetlands. The area, used for decades to manufacture salt, is known as the Cargill salt ponds.

Cargill, Inc. and a developer, DMB Redwood City Saltworks, are trying to get the federal government to declare that the salt ponds are not protected by the Clean Water Act, arguing that the ponds are not bodies of water. If the two companies succeed, they could more easily move forward with their plans to fill in the salt ponds and construct retail space, offices, and condominiums.

In response, Baykeeper and Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare that the Cargill salt ponds are, indeed, waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. We recently sent the EPA dozens of historical documents that back up our position, showing that Cargill in the past has considered the ponds to be bodies of water. We also sent video documentation compiled by a Citizens Committee member showing abundant shorebirds living and foraging in the ponds.

Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has long worked to get this site restored as wetlands and included in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They have galvanized strong public opposition that for years has kept development from going forward.

Baykeeper opposes the development of the former salt ponds for numerous reasons. Many species of shorebirds and water birds use the salt ponds to forage and rest. Developing the area would cause wildlife to lose habitat. It would also fill in part of San Francisco Bay next to the wildlife refuge.

In addition, several recent studies have stressed the importance of protecting undeveloped space along the Bay and restoring wetlands in order to prepare for sea level rise. If the salt ponds are restored as wetlands, it will help buffer the effects of sea level rise on a vulnerable area of the South Bay. If buildings are constructed on the salt ponds, sea level rise will eventually put them partly underwater. The only question is how many decades it would take.

There are many reasons why the salt ponds should be protected by the Clean Water Act. First, without levees, the water in the ponds would rise and fall with the tides. Second, the ponds were formed by building levies to enclose part of the Bay. Third, the ponds are waters that are adjacent to the Bay.

A decision by the EPA that the salt ponds are protected by the Clean Water Act won’t necessarily stop the development. But any development application would have to undergo a rigorous review to determine whether developing the salt ponds is in the public interest.  

The EPA has yet to make its final determination. Baykeeper and Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge will continue to advocate for the salt ponds to be restored as San Francisco Bay wetlands. 

Photo by Joan Robins