[Federal Register: March 20, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 54)]
[Page 13721-13724]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Joint Environmental Impact 
Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the South Bay Salt Ponds 
Initial Stewardship Project

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior (Lead Agency).

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a joint Environmental Impact 
Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the South Bay Initial 
Stewardship Project.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California 
Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) are preparing a joint Environmental 
Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) to address the 
potential impacts of the Initial Stewardship Project for the South Bay 
Salt Ponds (ISP) in south San Francisco Bay, California. The joint EIS/
EIR will address the design, implementation, and maintenance of the 
proposed ISP to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and all 
necessary permits and approvals from other local, state, and federal 
    This notice describes the proposed action and possible 
alternatives; notifies that an EIS/EIR will be prepared and considered; 
invites the participation of other Federal, State and local agencies, 
affected Tribes, and the public in the process for determining the 
scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant 
issues related to the proposed action (the scoping process); and 
describes the proposed scoping process, including the scoping meeting 
to be held.

DATES: A public scoping meeting to solicit comment on the environmental 
effects of the ISP and the scope and significant issues to be analyzed 
in the EIS/EIR will be held on March 27, 2003 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 
the Visitor Center, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR, 1 
Marshlands Road, Fremont, California. Call (510) 792-0222 if directions 
are needed. Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to 
attend and participate in the public scoping meeting should contact the 
Refuge Manager at (510) 792-0222 sufficiently in advance of the meeting 
to allow time to process the request. Written comments are encouraged 
and should be received on or before April 21, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Information or comments related to the NEPA process should 
be submitted to Refuge Manager, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex, P.O. Box 
524, Newark, CA 94560. Written comments may also be sent by facsimile 
to (510) 792-5828. All comments received, including names and addresses 
will become part of the administrative record and may be made available 
to the public.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding the NEPA process, 
including scoping may be directed to Margaret Kolar, Refuge Manager, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex, P.O. Box 
524, Newark, California 94560 (telephone (510) 792-0222). For questions 
concerning the CEQA process, please contact Carl Wilcox, Habitat 
Conservation Manager, California

[[Page 13722]]

Department of Fish and Game, Region 3 Headquarters, P.O. Box 47, 
Yountville, CA 94599 (telephone (707) 944-5525).


Project Location

    The USFWS and CDFG will acquire from Cargill Salt, 15,100 acres of 
industrial solar salt ponds and/or associated salt-making rights in 
south San Francisco Bay, California. Under terms of the acquisition, 
the USFWS will own and manage 8,000 acres of ``Alviso Ponds,'' the 
1,600 acres of ``West Bay Ponds.'' The CDFG own and will manage 5,500 
acres of ``Baumberg Ponds.'' The Alviso Ponds consist of an 8,000-acre 
complex of 25 ponds on the shores of the South Bay in Fremont, San 
Jose, Sunnyvale and Mountain View, in Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. 
Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve and Charleston Slough border the 
acquisition area on the west, on the south by Moffet Naval Air Station, 
Sunnyvale Baylands Park and to the east by Coyote Creek and Cushing 
Parkway in Fremont. Major drainages which discharge into San Francisco 
Bay within the complex area include Charleston Slough, Mountain View 
Slough, Stevens Creek, Guadalupe Slough, Alviso Slough (Guadalupe 
River), Artesian Slough, Mud Slough, and Coyote Creek. The complex 
includes three ``Island Ponds'' surrounded by Coyote Creek and Mud 
    The West Bay Ponds consist of a 1,600-acre complex of 7 ponds on 
the bay side of the Peninsula, on both sides of Highway 84 west of the 
Dumbarton Bridge, bayward of the developed areas of the City of Menlo 
Park in San Mateo County. Bayfront Park is located to the west, and the 
Dumbarton Bridge approach and the UPRR are located at its southern 
border. Ravenswood Slough discharges to the Bay through the complex.
    The Baumberg Ponds consist of a 5,500-acre complex of 23 ponds on 
the shores East Bay, west of Hayward and Union City in Alameda County. 
The approach to the San Mateo Bridge and the CDFG Eden Landing 
Ecological Reserve, form the northern boundary of the acquisition area. 
Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel and the Coyote Hills form the 
southern boundary. Major drainages that discharge into the San 
Francisco Bay within the complex include Old Alameda Creek and Alameda 
Creek Flood Control Channel.

Project Description

    The proposed South Bay Salt Ponds Initial Stewardship Project is 
intended to provide for management of the ponds from the time 
management responsibility is transferred by Cargill to the USFWS and 
CDFG until a long-term restoration and management plan for the South 
Bay is completed. It is anticipated that the planning and design 
process for long-term restoration, and thus the duration of the ISP, 
will require at least five years.
    The objectives of the proposed South Bay Salt Ponds Initial 
Stewardship Project include:
    1. Cease salt production;
    2. Circulate bay water through the ponds and introduce tidal 
hydrology to ponds where feasible;
    3. Maintain existing open water and wetland habitat for the benefit 
of wildlife, including habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl 
and resident breeding species;
    4. Maintain ponds in a restorable condition to facilitate future 
long term restoration;
    5. Meet all regulatory requirements, including discharge 
requirements to maintain water quality standards in the South Bay.
    Proposed changes to existing operations include:
    1. Circulating bay waters through reconfigured pond systems and 
releasing pond contents into the Bay. The plan will require installing 
new water control features, consisting of intake structures, outlet 
structures and additional pumps to maintain existing shallow open water 
    2. Managing a limited number of ponds as seasonal wetlands, to 
reduce management costs and optimize habitat for migratory shorebirds 
and waterfowl.
    3. Managing different summer and winter water levels in a limited 
number of ponds to reduce management costs and optimize habitat for 
migratory shorebirds and waterfowl.
    4. Restoration of three ponds to muted tidal or full tidal 
    5. Managing several ponds in the Alviso system as ``batch ponds'', 
where salinity levels would be allowed to rise in order to support 
specific wildlife populations.
    Installation of all proposed water control structures is 
anticipated to require several years to complete. After water control 
structures are installed for individual pond systems, intake of bay 
water into ponds and initial release of pond contents into the Bay will 
generally begin the following March to May time period when salinities 
within ponds and in the Bay are at their lowest. During the initial 
release period, the discharge salinity from the pond system may be 
significantly higher than normal Bay salinity. Three levels of maximum 
initial release salinity conditions are proposed in Table 1. Ponds were 
designated for a particular salinity group based on the historic 
operation of the salt operations and system constraints on changes to 
the existing salinities. Salinity group 1 ponds would have a maximum 
initial discharge salinity of 65 parts per thousand (ppt). (Seawater is 
approximately 32 ppt.) These ponds are generally intake ponds or ponds 
near intakes with the lowest existing and historic salinities. Salinity 
group 2 ponds would have a maximum initial discharge salinity of 100 
ppt. These ponds are in the middle range of the ponds in the 
acquisition. Salinity group 3 ponds would have a maximum initial 
discharge salinity of 135 ppt.

                                            Table 1.--Salinity Groups
                                    Maximum initial     Alviso complex     Baumberg complex    West Bay complex
         Salinity group           discharge salinity         ponds               ponds               ponds
Group 1.........................  65 ppt............  1A1, A2W, A2E, B1,  1, 2, 4, 7 10, 11.  ..................
                                                       B2, A3W, A3N.
Group 2.........................  100 ppt...........  A5*, A7*, A8* A9,   5, 6, 1C, 2C, 3C,   ..................
                                                       A10, A11, A14.      4C, 5C, 6C.
Group 3.........................  135 ppt...........  A12, A13, A15,      6A, 6B, 9, 8A, 8,   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5S,
                                                       A16, A17, A19,      12, 13, 14.         SF2
                                                       A20, A21.
* These ponds would have a maximum initial discharge salinity level of 110 ppt.

    For Alviso systems expected water depths in most of the ponds will 
be 1 to 2 feet on average, similar to their existing condition. Average 
water depths in the Baumberg systems will range from zero to about 2.5 
feet in

[[Page 13723]]

summer, and about 1 to 2.5 feet in winter. To save on pumping costs, 
water surface levels in the Baumberg systems will be operated at levels 
lower than existing conditions. Eliminating pumping in winter will 
result in different operating water levels between summer and winter. 
The West Bay Ponds will be managed in a similar manner to current salt 
making operations for at least three years. During this period, high 
salinity brines will be moved to the Cargill Newark Plant Site. Intake 
structures needed for the ISP may also be used during this period. 
Management plans and hydrologic modeling for Initial Stewardship will 
be completed during that time.

Preliminary Alternatives Identified to Date

    The EIS/EIR will consider a range of actions, alternatives and 
impacts, including the no action alternative. Scoping is an early and 
open process designed to determine the issues and alternatives to be 
addressed in the EIS/EIR. To date, the following alternatives have been 

No Action

    Under the No Action alternative, there would be no flow circulation 
through the pond systems. No additional water control structures would 
be installed, no release of pond contents or management of water and 
salinity levels would occur, and the existing infrastructure would not 
be maintained. The contents of the ponds would be allowed to evaporate 
leaving behind salt-crusted flats and in deeper areas, residual pools 
of concentrated brine. Ponds would take 1 to 2 years to dry. The 
deepest portions of the ponds will be seasonally wet during winter, 
filling with water after rain events. Under the No Action alternative, 
most of the existing open water habitats currently used by wildlife 
would be eliminated. Without maintenance pond levees and control 
structures would be prone to failure, increasing risk of uncontrolled 
intake and release of flows from/to the Bay. Although this alternative 
minimizes additional inputs of salinity, long-term pond drying may 
result in hyper-saline soil conditions. This may cause the chemistry of 
the soil to be affected in a manner that would likely increase the cost 
and level of effort of future restoration.

Maintain Infrastructure Only

    This alternative is the same as the No Action alternative except 
that the levees and water control structures would be maintained and 
repaired as needed. The ponds would be managed as seasonal ponds until 
the final restoration plan has been completed. Under this scenario the 
pond contents would be removed or allowed to evaporate. During the 
summer, they would be maintained as dry to minimize construction and 
management costs. During winter they would fill during precipitation 
events but contents would not be discharged. Maintenance of the levees 
and water control structures would prevent their deterioration that 
could cause the accidental breaching of the ponds and release of pond 
contents to the Bay. Under this alternative, most of the existing open 
water habitats currently used by wildlife would be eliminated, 
significantly changing the character of the South Bay salt ponds. This 
alternative minimizes additional inputs of salinity and does not 
require a permit to discharge pond contents into the Bay. As with the 
No Action alternative, long-term pond drying may result in hyper-saline 
soil conditions. This may cause the chemistry of the soil to be 
affected in a manner that would likely increase the cost and level of 
effort of future restoration.

Breach Levees of Island Ponds A19, A20 and A21

    Under the proposed action, the Island Ponds would be retrofitted 
with new intake and outlet structures, and managed under a muted tidal 
condition. Breaching of the levees of each pond would allow the three 
ponds to return to a more natural tidal regime. Due to their location 
between Lower Coyote Creek and Mud Slough, the Island Ponds are fairly 
inaccessible, and therefore, difficult to actively manage. They would 
be inundated during the high tides but would be above water at other 
times resulting in 474 acres of intertidal marsh and mudflat habitat. 
Concerns regarding the breach alternative include increasing the tidal 
prism of Coyote Creek as well as altering the existing deposition and 
scour regime of Coyote Creek. Specifically, there is a concern that 
increased velocities in Coyote Creek could cause scour at the railroad 
crossing of Coyote Creek.

Seasonal Pond Operations

    Under the proposed action, pond systems consisting of numerous 
ponds generally have one or more pond(s) serving as batch ponds. Due to 
their location and, in some cases, relatively high bottom elevations, 
batch ponds do not have continuous water circulation. They do not have 
a direct hydrologic connection to the bay or tidal sloughs and creeks, 
but rely on a neighboring pond for delivery of inflows and release of 
outflows. The volume and frequency of the intake and release from/to a 
neighboring pond are used to control the batch pond salinity and water 
levels. Batch ponds can easily be managed for high salinity in the 
range of 80-120 ppt to favor brine shrimp and brine fly production, an 
important food source to certain waterfowl.
    As an alternative to a batch pond, certain ponds could be operated 
as a seasonal pond to eliminate costly pumping during summer to 
maintain water levels. Seasonal ponds differ from batch ponds in that 
their contents would be drained prior to summer. Seasonal ponds will 
fill from rain during winter and be allowed to dry-down through the 
summer. The pond salinity would not be controlled, but would fluctuate 
due to residual salt in the pond, rainwater inflows, and seasonal 

Flexibility in Time Period of Initial Release

    Under the proposed action, initial discharge of pond contents would 
begin in March/April when salinities within the ponds and receiving 
waters are the lowest. Allowing initial release of pond contents into 
the Bay at other times during the year would be desirable as a 
contingency since all necessary water control structures cannot be 
installed prior to the initial March/April release date. In addition, 
for certain Alviso ponds, discharge at other time periods would avoid 
entrainment of juvenile salmonids during downstream migration periods. 
Concerns regarding this alternative include the ability to meet 
regulatory requirements for the initial discharge of pond contents and 
effects of elevated salinity at discharge locations to upstream 
migrating adult salmonids and bay shrimp.

Content of the EIS/EIR

    The EIS/EIR will analyze, describe, and evaluate direct, indirect 
and cumulative potential environmental impacts of alternatives, 
including the no project/no action alternative in accordance with NEPA 
and CEQA. The range of alternatives being considered may be refined, 
expanded, or revised as a result of the scoping process. Impact 
analysis will include a discussion of direct and indirect impacts, 
short- and long-term impacts, cumulative impacts, and unavoidable 
impacts. For each issue listed below, the EIS/EIR will include a 
discussion of the parameters used in evaluating the impacts; 
recommended mitigation, indicating the effectiveness of mitigation 
measures proposed to be implemented and what, if any, additional 
measures would be required

[[Page 13724]]

to reduce the impacts to below a level of significance. Direct and 
indirect impacts that will be analyzed include disturbance during 
construction of water control structures, changes in pond water depth 
and salinity, changes to water quality in the receiving Bay, creeks and 
sloughs, and effects caused by operation and maintenance.
    The list of issues presented below is preliminary both in scope and 
number. These issues are presented to facilitate public comment on the 
scope of the EIS/EIR, and are not intended to be all-inclusive or to be 
a predetermination of impacts to be considered.

Water Quality

    The EIS/EIR will describe existing water quality conditions in the 
salt ponds within the project area and the receiving waters; 
characterize effects of discharges including changes in salinity, 
turbidity, dissolved oxygen, BOD, and metals; and consider potential 
effect of the timing of discharges as well as the specific location of 


    The EIS/EIR will describe existing contaminant levels in sediments 
of the salt ponds and adjacent Bay, creek and sloughs including 
chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and 
mercury; and consider potential effects of water level management in 
remobilization of buried contaminants.

Biological Resources

    The EIS/EIR will describe existing habitat and characterize changes 
in wildlife habitat and wildlife use in ponds and receiving waters. The 
EIS/EIR will also identify potential sensitive species and habitats in 
or near the project area and determine their abundance and extent of 
sensitive habitats that may be impacted by project implementation. 
Specific species to be addressed include California clapper rail, snowy 
plover, California least tern, salt marsh harvest mouse, Chinook salmon 
and steelhead trout.

Air Quality

    The EIS/EIR will evaluate effects of changes in water quality and 
water elevations that may cause the release of hydrogen sulfide and 
other odorous organic gases.

Flood Protection

    The EIS/EIR will evaluate effects of introduction of water 
circulation into ponds to changes in flood protection to neighboring 


    The EIS/EIR will evaluate effects of the project to commercial 
fishing of Bay shrimp, including the initial release of pond contents 
to sloughs and creeks where juveniles are found.

Cumulative Impacts

    The EIS/EIR will examine the cumulative impacts of past, ongoing, 
and probable future projects affecting tidal marsh and estuarine 
habitats in the South Bay. Projects will include other salt pond 
restoration projects and wetland habitat improvement project.

Scoping Process

    The EIS/EIR will be prepared in compliance with NEPA and Council on 
Environmental Council Regulations, contained in 40 CFR parts 1500-1508; 
and with CEQA, Public Resources Code Sec 21000 et seq., and the CEQA 
Guidelines as amended. Because requirements for NEPA and CEQA are 
somewhat different, the document must be prepared to comply with 
whichever requirements are more stringent. The Service will be the lead 
agency for the NEPA process and the Department of Fish and Game will be 
the lead agency for the CEQA process. In accordance with both CEQA and 
NEPA, these lead agencies have the responsibility for the scope, 
content, and legal adequacy of the document. Therefore, all aspects of 
the EIS/EIR scope and process will be fully coordinated between these 
two agencies.
    The draft EIS/EIR will incorporate public concerns associated with 
the project alternatives identified in the scoping process and will be 
distributed for at least 45-day public review and comment period. 
During this time, both written and verbal comments will be solicited on 
the adequacy of the document. The final EIS/EIR will address the 
comments received on the draft during public review and will be made 
available to all commenters on the draft EIS/EIR and anyone requesting 
a copy during the 45-day public review period. The final EIS/EIR shall 
(1) provide a full and fair discussion of the proposed action's 
significant environmental impacts, and (2) inform the decision-makers 
and the public of reasonable measures and alternatives that would avoid 
or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human 
    The final step in the Federal EIS process is the preparation of a 
Record of Decision (ROD), a concise summary of the decision(s) made by 
the USFWS. The ROD can be published immediately after the final EIS 
comment period has ended. The final step in the State EIR process is 
certification of the EIR, which includes preparation of a Mitigation 
Monitoring and Reporting Plan and adoption of its findings, should the 
project be approved. A certified EIR indicates the following: (1) The 
document complies with CEQA; (2) the decision-making body of the lead 
agency reviewed and considered the final EIR prior to approving the 
project; and (3) the final EIR reflects the lead agency's independent 
judgment and analysis.
    This notice is provided pursuant to regulations for implementing 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: March 13, 2003.
Steve Thompson,
Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office.
[FR Doc. 03-6661 Filed 3-19-03; 8:45 am]