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PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Water Restored to Cullinan Ranch After 100 Year Absence
California-Nevada Offices , January 13, 2015
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An excavator was used to remove a tidal levee at Cullinan Ranch, near Vallejo, Calif., and allow water to flow over 1,200 acres.
An excavator was used to remove a tidal levee at Cullinan Ranch, near Vallejo, Calif., and allow water to flow over 1,200 acres. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
Spectators watch as water rushes onto Cullinan Ranch after the tidal levee was breached.
Spectators watch as water rushes onto Cullinan Ranch after the tidal levee was breached. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
Water gushes through the breach to create wetland habitat at San Pablo Bay NWR.
Water gushes through the breach to create wetland habitat at San Pablo Bay NWR. - Photo Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS
A crowd of partners gathered at Cullinan Ranch, near Vallejo, Calif., to celebrate the levee breach and creation of new aquatic habitat.
A crowd of partners gathered at Cullinan Ranch, near Vallejo, Calif., to celebrate the levee breach and creation of new aquatic habitat. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS

By Cindy Sandoval

Last week tidal waters returned to the Cullinan Ranch portion of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge after over a 100-year absence. Dozens of onlookers from organizations like Audubon, Save the Bay and others that have been involved in the restoration project gathered to watch an excavator remove a tidal levee. Once enough dirt was removed the salty water rushed into the restoration area recreating marsh habitat that is one and half times larger than Golden Gate Park.

“Today is a momentous occasion, we have breached the levee and returned over 1,200 acres of wildlife habitat to the refuge,” said Anne Morkill, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager.

Cullinan Ranch, located just off of state Highway 37, was originally a salt-water marsh connected to San Pablo Bay but was converted to farmland in the 1800s. To create suitable conditions for agriculture a dike was built on the ranch to block seawater from entering the area.

Over two decades ago as the bay area began to grow, Cullinan Ranch was slated for development and a plan was proposed to construct a neighborhood on the site. However, local residents fought to stop the building of thousands of residential homes and a marina citing a need to preserve natural landscapes in the bay area. According to wetland biologist Francesca Demgen saving Cullinan Ranch was the product of many choosing “action over apathy.” With development plans halted, Cullinan Ranch was purchased with federal funds and became part of the San Pablo Bay NWR administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in 1991.

Before the levee breach, precautions were taken to protect both people and animals from the restored flows. Contractors on the project, Ducks Unlimited, built a new levee prior to the breach to prevent water from reaching Highway 37. Additionally, a pump was brought into the area to add a small amount of water to the ranch before the levee was breached. This water was added to provide animals an opportunity to leave the flooded area before full flows were restored and avoid a mass exodus of animals onto Highway 37.

The new habitat will provide homes for waterfowl and shore birds, many of which use the refuge during their seasonal migrations. Along with the new bird habitat, the Cullinan Ranch restoration area also offers trails, a kayak launch and fishing piers for the public to enjoy. The site offers other benefits, said Doug Cordell, public affairs officer for the Service.  “This restoration is part of a much larger effort in the North Bay that will also help provide flood control,” he explained.

The soil of Cullinan Ranch may take years to rebuild after becoming dry when it was cut off from the bay but the levee breach is just one more step toward a fully functioning wetland. The birds did not seem to mind that the wetland was still in its forming stages as onlookers saw shorebirds wading in the restored water only minutes after the flows returned.

 

Cindy Sandoval is a public affairs specialist at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento.


Short video with San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager Anne Morkill about the levee breach.
http://youtu.be/kGwIsF2f9T0
Flickr album of Cullinan Ranch.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/sets/72157650130811456/
Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov
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