San Diego NWR Complex
Pacific Southwest Region

Western Salt Pond Restoration Project

On the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge


Aerial of completed restoration project, October 2011 (Photo by Merkel & Associates)



As you travel along the southwestern most corner of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, along the Bayshore Bikeway, you will see all the activity happening on the Western Salt Pond Restoration Project! Since construction began in December 2010, the dramatic change from commercial salt ponds to restored wetlands is taking place within the three western-most ponds (Ponds 10a, 10, and 11). What is going on under the water surface will soon be visible as we begin creating rare salt marsh wetland habitat.

The restoration of critical wetland habitat in San Diego Bay is essential to fish and wildlife and to the long-term health of the bay.

Project Leader of the San Diego NWR Complex, Andy Yuen, gets interviewed by KPBS reporter Ed Joyce in October.  Click on the link for the full story! (Lisa Cox/USFWS)

KPBS Special Report November 2, 2011 - Click here for the full story!


The western salt ponds will be transformed into open water, intertidal habitats such as mudflats, low-marsh, and mid-marsh (above).  The construction will consist of earth moving by dredge, from Pond 10 into Pond 11 to create a sinuous network of channels that will serve as the main sloughs of over 200 acres of estuary in south San Diego Bay.

Construction workers of Diamond, Inc. explain how the software on the dredge works:  the dredge removes material according to previously studied elevations of the ponds, and contours it to the designated plan (see channels in habiat map, above).  (Lisa Cox/USFWS)  The first "cut" of the channel, removed by the floating dredge (Lisa Cox/USFWS)


Once the channels are cut, and the proper elevations are achieved, the existing levees separating these ponds from the tidal waters of the bay will be breached in two places! These ponds have not received tidal bay influence since 1960 or earlier. By the end of Summer 2011, tidal ifluence from the San Diego Bay will flow and fluctuate within these ponds, which will allow natural plant propogation to take hold. Just wait to see what wildlife will come!

It is a challenging, yet exciting and rewarding project. It is the hope of all the project partners and local residents of San Diego that when completed, this project will restore native ecosystem functions of lower tidal marsh habitat...and to the rest of the South Bay. It is also the hope that in the future, this habitat will attract a keystone endangered species to thrive here: the Light-footed clapper rail.


A mixed flock of Caspian, Royal, Elegant, and common terns with their nests on the South Bay NWR, Summer 2010 (Brian Collins/USFWS).

    -------------Why Restore the South Bay?--------------

Over the past 150 years, dredging and filling operations have resulted in the loss of 42 percent of San Diego Bay’s historic shallow subtidal habitat, 84 percent of its intertidal mudflat habitat, and 70 percent of its salt marsh habitat.  Most of the native upland and wetland/upland transition habitat has also been lost to development.  In recognition of the need to restore the Bay’s historic coastal habitats, a partnership of local, state, federal, and non-governmental agencies was formed to seek funding for and implement a significant restoration project in south San Diego Bay. 

The funding has been secured and project construction is underway.  When completed, this restoration and enhancement project will have restored, created, and enhanced habitat to support: five federally or state listed threatened and endangered species, including the California least tern, light-footed clapper rail, western snowy plover, Belding’s savannah sparrow, and eastern Pacific green sea turtle; tens of thousands of migratory birds that stop over at San Diego Bay while traveling along the Pacific Flyway; and a diverse array of fish, including species important to commercial and recreational fisheries, and other marine organisms

.California least tern (Photo Credit: Gary Meredith) Light-footed clapper rail (USFWS)A female western snowy plover (Photo Credit: Andrew Fisher)Belding's savannah sparrow (Photo Credit: Matt Sadowski)Eastern Pacific green sea turtle (Lisa Cox/USFWS)




2008 to 2010: Planning phase for the entire restoration project.

September 2010: Begin restoration process by the Port of San Diego at Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve. Transfer of dredged material via 7000 feet of pipeline across San Diego Bay into Pond 11 to create a nesting beach for threatened and endangered species such as the California least tern and western snowy plover.


The black slurry pipe from the Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve to Pond 11.  The pipe is crossing over the Otay river; where the river mouth meets the Bay (Kurt Roblek/USFWS).

  January 2010: Begin dredging tidal channels in Pond 10 and moving the dredged material into Pond 11. These newly created channels and high points will eventually attract an array of native salt marsh plants and animals, including the endangered Light-footed clapper rail.  


The dredge arm first agitates the pond bottom and intakes the material (Lisa Cox/USFWS).   The material uptake from the agitating arm flows through the pipeline (floating with plastic barrels) across Pond 10, and eventually into Pond 11 (Lisa Cox/USFWS).
  Output point of dredged Pond 10 material, into Pond 11 (Brian Collins/USFWS).  
  February - August 2011: Dredging the tidal channels in Ponds 10 and 11 will continue; moving tens of thousands of cubic yards of material.  
  August 2011: Breach the levees to restore tidal connections to Ponds 10, 10A, and 11. One breach will involve removing an existing tide gate, previously used by South Bay Salt Works to bring in bay water to facitlitate the salt-making process. The second breach will involve breaching of an existing levee located in the northeastern corner of Pond 11, an essential component to bringing the tidal water into the ponds.  
  September-October 2011: Begin planting 40,000 locally acquired salt marsh plants in Pond 10. These plants are essential to the project and will contribute to the overall genetic integrity of San Diego native plant species.  
  August 2011- Ongoing: Ponds 10A and 11 will be passively restored by natural processes (for example, flora recruitment as a result of seeds flowing in with the tides). As the years pass, the health of the ecosystem will continually evolve to support the many important species that exist in south San Diego Bay. Planting, maintenance, and monitoring activities will continue at the western salt ponds for a period of five years.
Some of these planting and restoration activities in the future will involve volunteer work days and stewardship projects with our local community partners!

Partners who made this project possible:

  Project funding is also creating and maintaining construction-related jobs in San Diego County.

The Western Salt Pond Restoration Project is supporting the local economy by creating construction jobs  (Lisa Cox/USFWS). August 25, 2011 (Lisa Cox/USFWS)
  As construction continues, there will be visible changes occurring in the western ponds that may not look as appealing as they do now, but as the project proceeds the appearance will begin to take on the features of a natural coastal marsh. We have incorporated measures into the project to minimize the effect of construction on the adjacent community, but in case there are issues or concerns that we should know about, the San Diego Bay NWR has established a project “hot line” to answer your questions and address any concerns while the construction phase of the restoration project is underway:  

For general questions about the restoration project, please contact Kurt Roblek, Refuge Operations Specialist and Western Salt Pond Restoration Project Manager,
at 619-575-2704 extension 334

"Restoration Updates" have been mailed out to the neighbors of Imperial Beach, bordering the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you would like to see them, and other more detailed information about restoring this Refuge as a whole, please visit our "Whats New!" page.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service and its partners thank the local neighbors of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge for their patience during the restoration process and construction activity.




Where wildlife comes naturally!

Last updated: May 7, 2012