Chewing Through the Bay's Salty Past

Gold isn't the only California treasure. Salt also played a key role in our history.

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010  |  Updated 4:41 PM PDT
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Delta's Graveyard of Ships

Joe Rosato Jr.

The water runs red in the areas where the old salt plant one stood. The red water is evidence of very high salianation.

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The remains of the old Oliver salt plant stick up through the mud like crooked wooden fingers.  All around, the planes of Eden Landing are thick with salt so they look as if they're buried beneath a fine layer of powdery snow. California Fish And Game biologist John Krause surveys the scene with an expert eye. 

"Salt making in the bay was going on," he said. "Since the 1850s and onward."

Back in those times, salt makers walled off these tidal marsh lands near Fremont to create salt evaporation ponds. Schooners coasted into docks to load up with salt bound for a growing San Francisco.

 Although most of the salt plants are now long gone, the alterations to the Bay's tide lands remain.

 But a new effort kicked off on Tuesday to return these lands to the way they were before industry and development came. Several years ago, California purchased 640 acres of the land with the intention of returning it to its original state. 

"We’re trying to restore the hydrology," said John Bourgeois of the California Coastal Conservancy, which is shepherding the project. "We’re trying to restore those tides back into the old channels and let nature take its course from there."

 As Bourgeois spoke, a massive back loader chewed through one of the old levees, scooping up mounds of dirt that had once stood between the Bay and the salt pools. The prep work will continue over the next year until the time comes to knock the levees down.

"And so today we can see the heavy equipment moving around," said Bourgeois. "We’re lowering levees and building new levees in other places with the hopes of next summer, breaching these back to restore the tides."

The long-term plans include a trail through the area, including the first public access since these areas were walled off more than 150 years ago. The plan calls for the remains of the old salt plant to remain, so that visitors can see the area’s past, even as the waters of its future come rushing in.

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