After the owner of 39-acre Point Buckler Island, located in Suisun Bay, filled the island’s wetlands and tidal marshes without proper permits, authorities levied a fine of $4.6 million and ordered him to restore the island’s important wetland ecosystem. In recent media coverage, the landowner attempted to downplay the harm his actions have caused, painting the penalties as an example of government regulators run amok.
In fact, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is the agency tasked by the state legislature and voters to ensure our waterways are protected, has simply enforced the law to preserve Bay-Delta wetlands. State and federal regulations prohibit filling and draining wetlands without a permit. Filling and draining can harm or ruin these fragile ecosystems.
Wetlands provide critical economic and environmental benefits. They provide habitat for birds and other species, filter pollutants, and buffer our communities from sea level rise and storm surges.
Yet in pursuit of creating an exclusive club, the island’s owner constructed dikes around the island and reshaped the site for roads and amenities for his future clients. As a result, the wetland vegetation died off, and the habitat is no longer available to the wildlife of Suisun Bay, including several federally-protected species.
Decades ago, Point Buckler Island was part of a complex of duck hunting clubs constructed in Suisun Bay, a northern inlet of San Francisco Bay near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But the island’s levees fell into disrepair. Historic photos show that by the early 1990s, the site had fully returned to tidal marsh. Any modification of tidal marsh requires extensive planning and mitigation to ensure wetlands are not lost and critical wildlife habitat is not impaired.
The San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary faces tremendous ecological pressure from the impacts of climate change. Recognizing this, on Tuesday voters passed Measure AA, approving a parcel tax that would raise $500 million to restore wetlands in San Francisco Bay. Taxpayers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars, and will invest even more in the future, to restore tidal marsh and ensure a more resilient Bay-Delta. These investments should not be undermined by the unpermitted actions of individual property owners.
San Francisco Baykeeper supports the efforts of the Regional Water Board to enforce the law and protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem.
Aerial view of 39-acre Point Buckler Island in 2011. 37 acres were assessed as tidal marsh; 1 acre as "tidal channels and ditch"; and .5 acres as lowland terrestrial, in a recent expert report. Soon after this photo was taken, excavation and drainage of the island began.
By May 2014, a drainage ditch had been constructed along the southern boundary of the site, though tidal marsh vegetation remained intact.
By February 2016, construction of the drainage ditch was complete, interior wetland vegetation appears dead, artificial ponds and roads had been constructed, and vegetation had been mowed.
View of the interior portion of the island, which was tidal tule-cattail marsh before it was diked, drained, mowed, and driven over. The dominant vegetated cover is now accumulated dead standing litter. Photo from March 2, 2016 Regional Water Quality Control Board inspection report.
View of an excavated basin covered in pond scum, along with plastic duck decoys. The interior of the island was mapped by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California Department of Wildlife Resources as tule, cattail and bulrush marsh, between 2000 and 2012. Photo from March 2, 2016 Regional Water Quality Control Board inspection report.