From salt pond to salt marsh

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Greenish waterbody with meandering muddy streams within, brown mountain in background

Salt pond photo: Cris Benton

Just west of tiny Alviso, Calif., lies the remnant salt pond named A8, which is soon to return to its glory days as a thriving wetland, hopefully. If all goes as planned, this future salt marsh will be part of a 15,000-acre swatch of restored wildlife habitat in the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay.

A 40-foot floodgate will connect the former industrial salt pond to the tidal waters of the adjacent Alviso Slough, allowing natural salt water to flow in. At first, the water will only be allowed to enter in small increments so scientists can monitor its immediate effects on flora and fauna.

However, the area’s historical baggage may complicate plans. Beneath the salt flats there is mercury, which seeped in over a century ago from quicksilver mining operation during the California Gold Rush. If the inflow of tidal waters churns up the mercury, wildlife could be endangered and the project derailed.

Pond A8 is the test run of an ambitious 50-year restoration project undertaken by a team of local, state, and government agencies.