By Jeff Embleton and Dan Gillenwater
The mighty City of Hercules is doing its part to restore what has been lost. This East Bay city is currently engaged in trying to restore the 12-acre Chelsea parcel, located near the mouth of Pinole Creek where it meets San Pablo Bay, to tidal marsh. The project site is adjacent to the Chelsea by the Bay and Hercules by the Bay communities.
By 1950, more than 45 million acres of all wetlands in America had been destroyed. In the North Bay Area alone, more than 80% of the tidal wetlands have been decimated. The wetlands were drained and filled so that coastal land could be used to support the expansion of agriculture and urban development. The Chelsea parcel was once part of an expanse of tidal wetlands and mudflats at the mouth of Pinole Creek, but was diked and filled for development in the early 20th century. The site is now a vacant field supporting non-native annual grasslands and a few scattered wetlands of low habitat value. The region-wide loss of wetlands has impacted local environments in many negative ways through the loss of the physical and biological functions performed by these unique habitats.
With the restoration of tidal marsh at the Chelsea parcel, there are many positives that will be re-established in the natural community. Tidal wetlands are an important, but regionally rare, part of a healthy coastal ecosystem and provide habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. They also contribute to local aquatic food web productivity and help to improve water quality through the filtering of sediments, nutrients, and pollutants from the water column. The Chelsea Wetlands will also complement and enhance other local ecosystem restoration efforts as they will be adjacent and hydrologically connected to the planned Pinole Creek Greenway Demonstration Project, a pilot scale effort to enhance flood conveyance and ecosystem function in Lower Pinole Creek.
In addition to habitat benefits, the restored Chelsea Wetlands will provide over 18acre-ft (the volume of water stored on a 1 acre plot at a depth of 18ft) of flood water storage to the Lower Pinole Creek watershed. Passive recreational elements including wildlife viewing platforms and interpretive signs describing the restoration process and the habitat values of the Chelsea Wetlands are also planned along the San Francisco Bay Trail, which runs along the northern border of the project site.
The City’s consultant, Wetlands and Water Resources, Inc. (WWR) of San Rafael, performed the basic field surveys and background data collection activities at the project site and worked closely with the City to develop the restoration plan. The City and WWR have also held several community outreach meetings to present the project to local residents and stakeholders and solicit public input on the project. The project has been well received by the public and the local community is in favor of restoring this parcel of land to a thriving and integral habitat in a complex ecosystem.
The City of Hercules has obtained grants from a variety of local, state, and federal sources for project planning and implementation. Last month, the City received word that it had been awarded $1.8 million under State Proposition 84 River Parkways grant program to finalize the designs and construct the restoration project. To date, the City has received over $2.1 million dollars in grants for the project.
Persons interested in learning more about the Chelsea Wetlands restoration project can download the Final Conceptual Restoration Plan from the City of Hercules Website.
Photos courtesy of WWR, Inc.