Why Is The San Francisco Bay Improvement Act of 2010 Necessary?
After more than a century of abuse, San Francisco Bay is today severely polluted; its wetlands destroyed, and the fish and wildlife that once were abundant now hover at the precipice of extinction. Shoreline flooding has been exacerbated and billions of dollars in public funds have been expended to solve these problems that we, ourselves, created by treating the Bay as a garbage dump.
Why should people care about any of this?
- Our commercial and sport fishing industries have collapsed and the fish that remain are laced with toxins.
- Extensive areas of shoreline development are threatened with flooding that could have been prevented had we left our wetlands intact.
- Bay Area centers of economic productivity are jeopardized by rising sea level, including international ports, highways and airports.
Isn’t $1 billion a lot of money?
H.R. 5061’s proposed expenditure of $100 million each year, over a 10-year period, is minute investment when compared to what it will cost to solve these problems if we don’t restore San Francisco Bay, now.
We have already paid an enormous cost in an escalating attempt to address these problems with engineered solutions. We have spent billions to construct sewage treatment plants to remove pollutants from the Bay. Naturally occurring wetlands once filtered pollutants from the Bay at no cost. We have similarly spent billions of dollars, armoring the Bay shoreline against erosion and rising sea level; wetlands performed that function, for free.
We have lost billions of dollars as a result of the collapse of the commercial fishing industry. One significant contributor to that collapse was the destruction of the Bay’s wetland nursery for young salmon and other fish and shellfish.
We often hear people refer to San Francisco Bay as a national treasure, which most certainly is true. However, San Francisco Bay is also a significant contributor to the National Treasury, providing enormous direct financial benefits to all of us…for free.
As we face the fact of accelerated sea level rise, we now know that we can either invest our limited financial resources exclusively in costly, engineered barriers along the shore, or we can invest a very small portion of those same resources in an inexpensive and environmentally sound solution that will provide a natural barrier to sea level rise and greatly augment our level of protection, as well as significantly reduce our costs.
To use an automotive analogy, we can invest now in a $150 tune-up, or be faced a year from now with having to spend $25,000 for a new car, if we can even find one on the lot.
Selected Shoreline Economic Infrastructure at Risk from Sea Level Rise
- San Francisco International Airport
- Oakland International Airport
- Silicon Valley High Tech Industry Center
- Multiple Bayshore Highways, including Highways 80, 880 and 101.
- Railroad lines linking Bay Area commerce with national and international markets.
- Numerous Residential Communities, such as Foster City, Bay Farm Island, etc.
The Ecological Benefits
Half of the threatened and endangered plants and animals in California are wetland dependent. The Bay’s own California clapper rail population has declined to around one thousand birds. Clapper rails once numbered in the tens of thousands and exist today nowhere on earth outside San Francisco Bay.
We are poised to engage in the largest tidal marsh restoration in the nation. More than 100,000 acres of wetlands, which were drained in the past century and a half, can be restored by simply breaching the earthen dikes that keep them dry. Several sites have been ready for over a decade to be returned to their natural condition, but sit empty of water today because no construction funds are available.
Restoration of these wetlands will:
- Help cleanse the Bay of pollutants
- Rebuild native fish population
- Provide critical habitat for millions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds
- Protect developed shoreline areas from rising sea levels
- Reduce winter flooding of shoreline areas
- Reduce the cost to society of paying for these goods and services out of the public treasury.
San Francisco Bay Wetland Facts
- Historic Acreage of Tidal Wetlands: 196,000 acres
- Current Acreage of Tidal Wetlands: 40,000 acres
- Acres of Restorable Wetlands: 100,000+ acres
- Restorable Wetlands Already in Public Ownership: Approximately 50%
- Estimate cost of restoring 100,000 acres: $1.3 billion
Passage of this legislation is a no brainer. Restoration of the Bay is in everyone’s interest and, if we act promptly, is a bargain to boot.