Just north of Imperial Beach in San Diego Bay, 250 acres that used to belong to the century-old Western Salt Company are being restored to wetlands and natural habitat.
By mid-July, after years of preparation, the Salt Pond Restoration Project will be ready to move into its final stages. After dredging is completed next month, the levees north of the salt ponds will be breached to reconnect the area to the rest of San Diego Bay.
“I am told this is the largest salt marsh restoration project ever in the San Diego Bay,” said Kurt Roblek, Wildlife Refuge Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Projects may get even bigger in the future if funding is secured to restore all of south San Diego Bay’s salt ponds, he said.
Once tidal circulation is re-established, an estimated 60,000 native plants will be planted. The activity of bird species, plants, marine life and water quality will be monitored for five years following the project's completion.
“Once we get done we will just let it sit and let Mother Nature take it from there,” Roblek said.
Two levees will be opened to let the bay back in, but one may be delayed a few months or a year in order to allow material currently being dredged from one side of the salt ponds to settle in its new location.
The restoration project will support at least two indigenous endangered birds: the California least tern and the Western snowy plover, and the two species of birds have already planted their nests in the area, he said.
Initially, Roblek said, there was concern that the area could flood during high tide, but engineer’s projections found those worries were unfounded.
“Modeling and common sense says it won’t go up that far to flood,” he said, adding that pond restoration may reduce the possibility of flooding.
When the Western Salt Company controlled the ponds, they would use Pond 10 next to Seventh Street as a water repository and some city storm drains emptied there, Roblek said.
“So when there was heavy rain it would runoff into that pond and (make the water) back up into Seventh Street and flood,” he said, but with restored ponds, excess water will be flushed out to the ocean as the tide recedes.
In the future as climate change worsens and sea levels rise, it’s possible some sort of action may be necessary, but the same is true in several places “throughout the city, across the nation and the world,” said Roblek, .
Sweet Bird Watching
Imperial Beach will get a 2,000-feet walking trail that extends from Seventh to 10th Streets and runs parallel to the Bayshore Bikeway.
“It’s going to be a pretty sweet area to go bird watching and enjoy nature,” Roblek said.
“We came up with the idea to create the bayside birding trail to get people away from the massive amount of traffic and enjoy the bird watching and the pretty view of the bay and not be in danger,” he said.
The trail’s construction should start in September and finish in the beginning of 2012.
There is currently funding to construct the trail and an observation area, but the city of Imperial Beach may finance another, Roblek said.
The project is being financially supported through grants from at least 10 different organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Coastal Conservancy.
Pond 20, a wedge of land straddling Palm Avenue between 13th and 16th Streets, is not included in the project.
between the Port of San Diego, city of San Diego and Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency to explore ways to develop the land.