San Francisco Bay restoration plan updated amid funding surge

Proponents of a new plan to rehabilitate San Francisco Bay say they hope to make significant gains in the coming years because of millions of dollars in new federal funds.

The estuary, the largest on the west coast of North America, covers 60,000 square miles from the foot of the Sierra Nevada to the Golden Gate, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The estuary and the surrounding mountains, which hold about half of California’s water supply, are home to highly diverse ecosystems, including 100 endangered and threatened species, and support a multi-billion dollar economy.

As part of a decades-old effort to address environmental damage and habitat loss caused by development in the past two centuries, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership — a federal-state agency created in 1988 — released an updated blueprint on Tuesday to guide restoration projects for the next five years. The blueprint, last updated in 2016, now includes a greater focus on climate adaptation projects, such as sea-level rise defenses, and equity issues affecting underserved communities.

The plan has no regulatory teeth but serves as a roadmap of broad goals and actions that agencies and nonprofits across 12 counties can commit to, from improving wetlands to reducing water use to reducing trash and pollutants.

“This estuary is so big, it’s hard to grasp compared to something like Bolinas Lagoon or Tomales Bay,” said Marin Audubon president Barbara Salzman, who serves on the estuary partnership steering committee. “You can’t do one project for the whole thing. You have to take it in pieces. They all add up to a healthier estuary.”

The plan’s completion comes a few months after Congress and President Joe Biden approved a $53 million infusion of federal funds for the San Francisco Estuary.

“Both the state and federal governments have turned the fire hose on for funding climate resilient solutions,” said Warner Chabot, executive director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a nonprofit research group. “This blueprint, which is the result of six years of discussions among all the many players, hopefully provides a roadmap on how to spend that money efficiently and reflects the consensus of the multiple players at the local, state and federal level.”

Darcie Luce, an environmental planner with the partnership, said the boost in federal funding will “help give us that injection that this region really needs to drive further momentum.”

The $52.5 million funding boost comes from both the $1.5 trillion government spending bill signed in March and the $1 trillion federal infrastructure package approved in November.

The spending bill increased funding for a competitive grant program for the nine-county Bay Area from its normal $5 million to $24 million this year. An additional $24 million will be allocated to the grant program over the next five years from the infrastructure bill. Another $4.5 million from the infrastructure bill was allocated to the National Estuary Program for San Francisco Bay Estuary projects over the next five years, which is about $1 million more than normal.

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