Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do

Science Update 2016
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A Threat and an Opportunity

 

  • The baylands provide multiple benefits to our region, including flood protection, water purification, recreation, and wildlife habitat. They support our quality of life and our economy. Sea-level rise threatens the long-term survival of the baylands.
  • We have an opportunity to maintain the benefits the baylands provide—but it requires bold action now. If we delay, the opportunity will fade as sea-level rise accelerates.
  • Restoring our baylands is thus not a luxury, but an urgent necessity. The report tracks our progress and provides a suite of recommendations that must be implemented to maintain our baylands. Choosing one or two items will not suffice.

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Restore Processes to Maintain Baylands as Sea Levels Rise

  • The baylands’ continued function as sea level rises relies on restoring not just the habitats, but also the processes that sustain the habitats.
  • These processes include flows of water and sediment from the Bay, streams, and rivers; seasonal patterns of flow that include beneficial flooding; and the arrangement across the landscape of baylands habitats that allow wildlife to move when necessary.
  • Pilot projects that test methods for restoring baylands processes are a high priority. These will help identify the most effective techniques.
  • For wildlife to have refuge during high water, it is crucial to reconnect baylands to adjacent open lands.

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Accelerate Restoration of Baylands in Strategic Areas

  • To maintain the benefits of the baylands for the future we should restore tidal marsh systems in strategic areas by 2030, in areas where they are likely to survive sea-level rise.
  • Marshes established by 2030 are more likely to flourish when sea-level rise accelerates, in the middle of this century.
  • Implementing this strategy requires accelerating the planning, permitting, and construction of restoration projects on lands that are currently available.

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Dredged and Excavated Sediment is a Resource, Not a Waste Product

  • Projections indicate that the current sediment supply is insufficient for marshes to grow fast enough vertically to keep up with sea-level rise.
  • Once considered waste, dredged sediment is increasingly critical for tidal marsh restoration. It should now be managed as a resource for sustaining our shore.
  • A comprehensive regional sediment management plan is essential. It should emphasize the reuse of suitable dredged, excavated, or naturally-occurring sediment from the Bay, local rivers and streams, flood control channels, reservoirs, and other sources.
  • Implementing such a plan will require more extensive coordination among the organizations that manage our watersheds, streams, and baylands.

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Plan for Baylands to Migrate Landward in the Long Term

  • As sea level rises, the Bay will expand. Our plans and policies for the shore should anticipate this change.
  • Baylands have a natural ability to sustain themselves as sea level rises, by slowly migrating landward if space allows.
  • We can take advantage of this natural phenomenon by conserving the transition zone between the baylands and adjacent uplands, which is important wildlife habitat. By planning for this migration now, we will allow future generations to retain benefits provided by the baylands.

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Baylands and Climate Change: What Can We Do?

The wetlands at the shore of the San Francisco Bay are an integral part of the region’s iconic beauty, and they provide numerous benefits for our economy and quality of life. These baylands support abundant wildlife, clean water, open space for recreation, and flood protection. More than 100 scientists who study the bay, its wetlands, and watersheds have concluded that now is the time to ensure that these ecosystems continue to provide such benefits. Sea-level rise and climatic and other changes have brought about a critical moment. The extensive bay marshes and mudflats can be sustained for decades to come, but it will require a bold approach to restoring their natural processes. Meanwhile, we must also accelerate the concerted action of the past two decades to restore tidal habitats.