Filling San Francisco Bay, Then and Now

From Landfill to Wetlands, 1969 to 2015

Auto wrecking yard filling San Francisco Bay, 1969

Auto wrecking yard filling San Francisco Bay, 1969. Photo by Harvey Richards

Filling San Francisco Bay in 1969 was legal and advancing rapidly. Cities and corporations dumped everything from municipal garbage to auto junkyards into the San Francisco Bay. Cities and corporations had plans, approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to make the Bay into a narrow river by adding landfill and dumping anything they wanted into bay wetlands. It was going to add some valuable real estate to the coffers of the 1% and it took no notice of the impact on the environment, climate or living species that inhabit wetlands. Harvey Richards photographed these abuses.

Then, along came Save the Bay. Courageous and far-sighted activists halted those plans and stopped the filling of the bay. Public opinion triumphed over short-sighted private interests, just as today in Paris, France, public opinion is marshalling forces to counter private short-sighted interests responsible for climate change globally.

 BBay Waters Flowing into 900 Acres of New Wetlands at Sears Point

October 27, 2015, Bay Waters Flowing into 900 Acres of New Wetlands at Sears Point. Photo by Paul Richards

While the ocean tides continue to ebb and flow in the bay, the tide of public opinion shifted permanently. Today, the shrinking bay has been replaced by an expanding bay with the retirement of salt ponds and the expansion of wetlands. The most recent expansion of wetlands occurred at Sears Point in the north bay where the Sonoma County Land Trust opened up 900 acres of previously diked off farmland to the tidal actions of bay waters. The new wetlands came into being because of the same mobilizing of an informed public to create positive alternatives to the squandering of our natural resources that has led us to our current climate crisis. It is a lesson for all of us and it shows what it takes to stop climate change.

If you want to walk through the new wetlands in its first days, the Sonoma County Land Trust is opening the area to the public on December 5, 2015. You have to contact them to sign up for the walk.

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