In March, state and federal officials, local leaders, and representatives from Bay Area foundations and nonprofit groups gathered at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay to celebrate the beginning of an important new phase in one of the largest wetlands restoration efforts in the United States.

The ceremony at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso marked the third anniversary of the South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project as well as the breaching of earthen levees along three former industrial ponds, which for the first time allow Bay waters to flow in and out freely and silt to fill the ponds.

Three years ago, state and federal government agencies in partnership with four private foundations, including the Hewlett Foundation, acquired more than 15,000 acres of salt ponds along the Bay’s shoreline from the Cargill Corporation, a major salt producer. The goal was to return the stagnant industrial ponds to a tidal ecosystem brimming with life.

At last month’s ceremony, Senator Dianne Feinstein joined U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, California Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest, and others to acknowledge the progress that has been achieved toward restoration.

“Three years ago, I stood along the Bay to announce an historic public-private partnership – moving 16,500 acres from Cargill Salt to the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Senator Feinstein, who played a key role in negotiating the initial land acquisition. “I said at the time that I’d like to see the restoration completed in my lifetime, and today, we are seeing major progress toward that

The first phase of the project began in July 2004 when tens of thousands of gallons of Bay water flowed into former industrial ponds through tidal gates. The recent removal of the levees surrounding several of the ponds signals the beginning of what wildlife refuge manager Clyde Morris called the “full-blown restoration” of the wetlands.

Already bird populations have more than doubled and the public has increased access to open spaces and opportunities to enjoy wildlife, according to Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest.

“With the continued involvement and support of the public and local citizen groups, the scientific community, and our local and state leaders, I am confident we will see the implementation of a restoration plan that we can all be proud of and that will be a model for public-private partnerships for years to come,” Brest said at the ceremony.

The Hewlett Foundation partnered with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Goldman Fund, to contribute a combined $35 million toward the project. Transforming the stagnant salt ponds back to their natural state is estimated to be a 30-year effort.
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