Building with nature: Can reviving a marsh save this California town from sea level rise?
As of 2017, California’s coastline has grown another 5 million square yards of land — roughly the size of Boston, Massachusetts — between its existing coast and the rising sea. Most of that growth, more than one-third of the 7 million sq. mi, is in the marshlands of San Francisco Bay.
When coastal sea levels rise, the marshes will likely get wetter and wetter, as they’re not impervious to water. Then, as the bay heats up, it will dry out. They’re on the outer edge of the Bay Delta, one of the largest natural wetlands in the world. It was a wetland until the 1950s, but, after that time, bayfront property values in some areas dropped 60-90%.
Last June, when Sea Levels Rise, a group formed by a private nonprofit named the Pacific Institute, got together with residents of the marsh and proposed a plan to save the marsh from any kind of future land loss.
Their idea: Let’s turn it into a park.
The group began with a proposal to convert two adjacent parcels to an 8-acre park by re-developing their oceanfront parcels into something more valuable than the marshland they now have. That way, the marsh areas will be protected in perpetuity.
In exchange, the owners of the two parcels, the San Francisco Conservancy and California Department of Parks and Recreation, would pay cash or in-kind gifts to the Pacific Institute.
One of the areas, the Conservancy proposed, be converted into an artificial island. A small part of it could be restored as park space — but the whole thing would remain for a maximum of five years.
The other parcel would have to be turned into a “sheltered area” with a conservation easement and the possibility of some new park space.
The Pacific Institute’s proposal could not be approved by the town of Point Reyes, which controls all of the bay’s waterfront land. Point Reyes is run by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a nonprofit which administers the bay.
Under the proposal, Point Reyes would have taken over the project, which called for buying the