On the heels of the Ken Burns documentary about National Parks (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea) Hugh and I tuned into Saving the Bay, about the environmentalists who fought to save what was left of San Francisco Bay. The short series continues on PBS/KQED next week. If you missed parts one and two, you can catch a rebroadcast this Sunday.
National Parks was full of the dramatic highs and lows associated with both destruction and salvation, the tensions between development and preservation, environmental heroes and villains. Saving the Bay is no different. Watching both documentaries in succession is a poignant reminder of just how tenuous a grasp any of us has on the world we call wild. Every piece of precious land is one sale away from development. And almost every story of preservation begins with one courageous individual or group challenging the economics behind a land-use decision.
The Brief Story of Las Gallinas Ponds
In the case of Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds in San Rafael (Marin County), it’s a sanitation district’s action that produced huge and viable habitat (more than 300 acres in sum) for countless species of birds and mammals. The genesis of the reclamation project was a 1970s plan to change wastewater treatment to meet provisions of the Clean Water Act.
Residential influent is treated and discharged as effluent for irrigation purposes. And in that process, the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitation District created 20 acres of freshwater wetlands, 10 acres of salt marsh, 200 acres of irrigated pasture, and public access with trails, including links to the amazing and growing Bay Trail.
The EPA published a more thorough analysis of the Las Gallinas reclamation project. You can view it online or download a PDF.
The Las Gallinas reclamation project also includes solar panels and power, generating 850,000 kWh/year.
Las Gallinas Wildlife and Habitat
According to the LGVSD website, the Audubon Society has identified more than 200 bird species in the area. What you see when you roam about depends on the time of year, the tides, and, of course, the often unpredictable whims of the natural world. We went back last week to see how many winter visitors (ducks and shorebirds) had returned to our shores. We saw hundreds of Northern Pintails flying in and colonizing the ponds (first image). Most of the images below are ones I snapped last week. But I’ve included two (Snowy Egret, Avocets) I took last year during visits to Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds.