NOVATO (CBS SF) — A man-made, 285-foot wide breach in the Sears Point levee in southern Sonoma County Sunday allowed high-tide salt water from San Pablo Bay to begin filling a 1,000-acre tidal marsh basin, restoring the land to the way it was 140 years ago.
Following a private morning brunch and program for elected officials, an excavator carved out a breach just south of the Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway intersection, thereby connecting the basin to San Francisco Bay.
It’s expected to take 24 hours to fill the new tidal basin.
Farmers never developed the land that was diked in the mid-1800s, opting to graze cattle and grow oat hay instead. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria considered the land at Sears Point for a casino but chose a land for it’s new casino and resort just west of Rohnert Park because of opposition from environmental groups. The tribe donated its option to develop the property valued at $4 million to Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust raised $17 million to buy the 2,237-acre Sears Point Ranch property in 2005. Since then $18 million also was raised to restore the land to tidal marsh. The land will be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and become part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The land will be habitat for endangered and native species, capture carbons and filter pollutants and buffer state Highway 37 and railroad tracks from rising seas and storm surges as the result of climate changes.
A new 2.5-mile section of the San Francisco Bay Trail on top of the levee and a kayak ramp will open to the public in 2016.
“We have turned a new page in the history of wetlands at San Pablo Bay,” Sonoma Land Trust executive director Dave Koehler said.
“Returning the tides to Sears Point restores health to a natural resource that is vital to our future,” Koehler said.
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