Wild, wilder and wildest plans for wetlands in Mission Bay – ReWild’s proposal restores marshland habitat
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 01/23/19 - 09:05 AM | 10866 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A cattle egret finds a meal in Mission Bay. / Photo by Thomas Melville
A cattle egret finds a meal in Mission Bay. / Photo by Thomas Melville
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Mission Bay is a microcosm of the worldwide battle being waged to save remaining dwindling wetlands.

That battle is being played out locally with ReWild Mission Bay, a project of San Diego Audubon and its partners to enhance and restore wetlands in Mission Bay’s northeast corner.

ReWild Mission Bay’s proposal is to enhance and restore more than 150 acres of wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay, including the enhancement of 40 acres of existing tidal wetland habitat. The project will also create approximately 100 acres of tidal marsh and mudflat habitat and 30 acres of transitional/upland habitat.

The timeline for the high-profile project calls for it to be considered by the City Council sometime this year. The project would also ultimately have to be approved by the California Coastal Commission.

Mission Bay’s wetlands supply habitat for hundreds of local wildlife species, protect San Diego from climate change impacts such as flooding, and improves area water quality.

“What we have here is an opportunity, by doing a large-scale, meaningful wetlands project, to correct the imbalance that has long favored commerce and recreation at the expense of the environment,” said ReWild project manager Rebecca Schwartz Lesberg.

“During the past century, Mission Bay has been converted from a rich natural treasure into a heavily developed recreational area,” said Julia Elkin with the California State Coastal Conservancy. “People have lost the opportunity to really experience nature along the shoreline in Mission Bay. This is an unprecedented opportunity to restore a small piece of what was lost.” 

“We are excited to work with the City and all of our partners to see this vision implemented,” said Chris Redfern, executive director of San Diego Audubon, about ReWild. “This is the only way to protect the bay’s few remnant wetlands, which provide crucial habitat for wildlife, from disappearing in the coming years due to sea level rise.” 

Noting society views climate change as “complicated and far away,” Schwartz Lesberg pointed out Mission Bay’s remaining wetlands is “really close on our coastline and something we can do something about.”

Audubon and allies have presented three alternative proposals – wild, wilder and wildest – for Mission Bay wild lands restoration. “Wild” would provide the lowest amount of wetlands habitat, exclusively within the areas of Campland on the Bay and De Anza Cove.

 “Wilder” uses soil excavated from Campland to shallow approximately 38 acres of open water to create mudflat and salt marsh providing greater resiliency to sea-level rise. 

“Wildest” proposes using soil from both Campland and De Anza Point to restore mudflat and salt marsh providing the greatest resiliency to sea-level rise of all three alternatives.

ReWild recently released its highly anticipated final conceptual plans in a 350-page Feasibility Study Report outlining how wetlands can be restored to protect wildlife and the communities. The three plan options presented include expanded public access and habitat restoration options, as well as cost estimates and sea level-rise modeling. 

Mission Bay’s habitat has changed drastically over time. In the late 1800s, Mission Bay was a 4,000-acre mosaic of wetland habitats sprawled across the mouth of the San Diego River. 

For millennia, this wetland complex supported Native American communities relying on the Bay’s natural resources, and was home to tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. 

However, during the past several decades, much of the natural resources of Mission Bay have been altered, beginning with “Derby’s Dike,” built in 1853, to re-route the San Diego River. That began 150 years of large-scale alteration of the bay that nearly obliterated its natural biodiversity. 

Of the 4,000-acres of wetland habitats that once existed, only 40 acres – 1 percent – remain. 

ReWild conceptual plans for wetlands restoration, and all of the analysis that went into them, were presented to the public during a December workshop at Mission Bay High School.

For more information on ReWild Mission Bay and to access the full report, visit rewildmissionbay.org.

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