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SAN DIEGO BAY NWR: "Restoration Returns" Reports Incredible Economic Return to San Diego Area
California-Nevada Offices , April 22, 2014
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County Supervisor Greg Cox, FWS Pacific Southwest Regional Director Ren Lohoefener, Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney, Caridad Sanchez from Senator Barbara Boxer's office, and San Diego NWR Complex Project Leader Andy Yuen at one of the breach sites for the restoration project, which connects directly to the Otay River.
County Supervisor Greg Cox, FWS Pacific Southwest Regional Director Ren Lohoefener, Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney, Caridad Sanchez from Senator Barbara Boxer's office, and San Diego NWR Complex Project Leader Andy Yuen at one of the breach sites for the restoration project, which connects directly to the Otay River. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Aerial photo of the newly restored western salt ponds immediately following construction.
Aerial photo of the newly restored western salt ponds immediately following construction. - Photo Credit: Merkle & Associates, Inc.
Beautiful new annual pickleweed growth sprung up within the first year of the restoration project. As seen here, the Bayshore Bikeway wraps around the refuge where you can view the restoration progress take shape.
Beautiful new annual pickleweed growth sprung up within the first year of the restoration project. As seen here, the Bayshore Bikeway wraps around the refuge where you can view the restoration progress take shape. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Lisa Cox

"Restoration Returns: The Contribution of Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and USFWS Coastal Program to Local U.S. Economies” is an economic analysis report that examines the multiplier effect of these habitat restoration projects, where money spent in support of projects circulates through the economy, creating more jobs and generating economic activity.
In the South Bay project alone, 130 jobs were created in agriculture, service, construction, and trade industries. This generated a whopping $13.4 million into the local economy, when the project cost $7.7 million.

Background

Development has dramatically altered the shoreline of San Diego Bay over the past 150 years. The goal of the South San Diego Bay project was to reverse this trend. The project restored and enhanced a total of 300 acres of estuarine habitats at three sites in south bay, the largest being the western salt ponds on the refuge.

Completed in the fall of 2011, the South San Diego Bay Wetlands Restoration Project has successfully reintroduced tidal action from San Diego Bay into 220 acres of former solar salt ponds. The project also restored an additional 80 acres of sensitive habitats managed by the Port of San Diego at the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve and along the edge of Emory Cove along the strand.

During the construction of the project, a floating dredge moved earth from Pond 10 into Pond 11 to create a sinuous network of channels that would serve as the main sloughs of over 200 acres of open water, intertidal habitats, and upland marsh in south San Diego Bay. Once the channels were cut, and the proper elevations achieved by the dredge, the existing levees were eventually breached in three places.

These ponds have not received tidal bay influence since 1960 or earlier, so one can imagine the array of diverse organisms attracted to the area. Over 40,000 cordgrass "plugs" were planted, and several thousand more middle and upper marsh plant species were planted during the time of the final breach. All of the construction was contracted to local companies in San Diego and Orange Counties. The dredging was completed by Bert W. Salas Inc., based in Santee, and Diamond Lane Construction. As for the planting, Merkel & Associates, Inc. was contracted to remove exposed debris from the ponds and plant cordgrass in strategic areas. However, the tires and other debris that had collected over the past half century needed to be removed before any planting was to take place. The native salt marsh plantings of cordgrass and pickleweed were grown from locally collected seeds by Tree of Life Nursery, based in San Juan Capistrano, California.

Just days after the project was finished, tens of thousands of shorebirds started using this new intertidal habitat. Avocets, stilts, plovers, pelicans, herons and more gathered to roost, rest, and eat the fish that also were congregating in the new intertidal area. The best views of the restoration site are from the Bayshore Bikeway, just west of 7th Street in Imperial Beach. Although always present, birds are most abundant in the area an hour or so following the high tide. The Active Times even ranked the Bayshore Bikeway that goes around the perimeter of the refuge as the best bike path in the nation!

Into the future

Post-construction monitoring activities will continue here for five years under contract with research associates from the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Monitoring activities include topography surveys using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), tidal amplitude, water quality, soil sampling, benthic macroinvertebrate surveys, fish surveys, and bird surveys. In addition, some planting activities in the future will involve volunteer work days and stewardship projects with the local community.

The first couple of years of results of monitoring has shown the site is indeed providing nursery habitat for fish, with large numbers of juvenile slough anchovies in the tidal channels. Round stingrays are also abundant, and at least one octopus has decided to set up residence within the site. Plants such as pickleweed and cordgrass have naturally recruited at the higher elevations of the marsh plain, and an incredible number of shorebirds are foraging at the site during low and mid tides. It is also the hope that in the future, this habitat will attract a federally endangered species to live here: the Light-footed clapper rail!

For the full report and more, visit: http://www.fws.gov/home/restoration_returns.html

Lisa Cox is the Public Information and Outreach Coordinator at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Chula Vista, California.  


For a photo album of the event on the Refuge's Facebook page, visit:
http://on.fb.me/1jHPc06
Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov



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