Tidal Habitat Restoration: Practitioners’ Perspectives

SERCAL 2017 Technical Session, Davis

Chair: Gerrit Platenkamp, ESA

Lead presenters in alpha order

Designing High Tide Refuge Islands for the California Ridgway’s Rail
Gavin Archbald*1, Max Busnardo1, and Marilyn Latta2
1H. T. Harvey & Associates, 983 University Avenue Building D, Los Gatos 95032, gavinarchbald@harveyecology.com; 2California State Coastal Conservancy, 1330 Broadway 13th Floor, Oakland 94612
Recovery of the endangered California Ridgway’s rail (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus) is threatened by a lack of high tide refuge habitat in San Francisco Estuary marshes. To decrease predation on Ridgway’s rail, the California Coastal Conservancy constructed 63 earthen, high tide refuge islands during winters from 2013-2016, strategically located in 13 tidal marshes lacking refuge habitat. We designed the islands to mimic natural gumplant (Grindelia sticta) dominated slough channel berms, then annually monitored the islands for four years to iteratively modify the design and to evaluate habitat establishment. Our key findings are: (1) gumplant canopy established most rapidly when islands were built near the upper end of gumplant’s elevational range, and (2) island soil derived from marsh sediments remained horticulturally suitable, however, gumplant canopy was enhanced by use of terrestrial soil around plantings to reduce transplant shock. Moreover, in 2016, islands built to elevations of 1.0 foot (ft) and 1.3 ft above MHHW (Year 1 and 2 islands) were providing on average about 1 vertical ft of gumplant canopy above the highest predicted tides, the minimal cover needed to hide rails from predation during most extreme high tides. By contrast, islands built to 1.7 ft above MHHW (Year 3 and 4 islands) had gumplant canopy on average 3 ft above the highest predicted tides and provided high-quality refuge habitat. Gumplant survival averaged 73% across islands. The project demonstrates a feasible and cost-effective method to rapidly provide high tide refuge habitat in tidal marshes.

Measuring Fish Response as a Primary Performance Metric for Tidal Marsh Restoration Implementation
Christopher Fitzer, Garrett Leidy, and Paul Bergman*
Environmental Science Associates, 2600 Capitol Avenue, Suite 200, Sacramento 95816, cfitzer@esassoc.com
Substantial investments are being made in large-scale restoration of tidal wetland habitats in the Bay-Delta to restore ecological processes and aid in the recovery of native fish. Understanding species response to restoration is critical in determining whether or not goals and objectives are being met and also to provide lessons to inform the design of future projects. The Hamilton Wetland Restoration Project, located in Marin County, California, restores a former Army airfield (648 acres) to a mix of tidal and seasonal wetland, transitional ecotone and upland habitats. The project is being implemented by the USACE, in partnership with the Coastal Conservancy. The site was constructed and opened to tidal inundation in the spring of 2014. Fish species assemblages were surveyed in the springs of 2015, 2016, and 2017 utilizing a combination of techniques at multiple sample sites to assess the distribution and relative abundance of juvenile and adult fish species in the restored marshes, mudflats, and associated shallow water areas. The encouraging results document initial fish response to the very young restoration site and they show that properly designed restoration projects can achieve immediate results. Using these monitoring results along with results from other sites as case studies, we hypothesize whether all sites can be measured equally in terms of performance. Specifically, we evaluate and consider how fish response expectations (and performance criteria) should be developed and applied to new sites based on their location in the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the associated fish community inhabiting surrounding waterways.

40+ Years of Wetland Restoration in San Francisco Bay: Lessons learned and emerging trends
Michelle Orr, PE1, Stephen Crook, PhD2, Mark Lindley, PE1, and Ann Borgonovo*1
1Environmental Science Associates, 550 Kearny Street, Suite 800, San Francisco 94108, 415.262.2310, morr@esassoc.com; Sylvestrum Climate Associates
In San Francisco Bay, more than 90% of historic tidal wetlands have been lost or disturbed by human intervention. Public concern for the Bay’s health began to grow in the 1950s, and reached a tipping point in 1965, when a successful citizen movement resulted in passage of the McAteer-Petris Act—the first wetlands protection in the United States— preventing further filling of wetlands in San Francisco Bay and promoting restoration. Initial attempts at restoration in the Bay were primarily driven by compensatory mitigation requirements. The general approach involved setting the right elevations, planting native vegetation and then breaching levees to flood the restored area. These restorations were successful in creating a vegetated tidal marsh, however, they typically lacked physical and biological complexity. In the 1990s, projects began to incorporate design approaches that rely on the power of natural processes acting over time to create desired wetland features. As restoration practice has evolved, approaches have expanded. Current Bay restoration issues, as documented in the Goals Project Science Update 2015, include accelerated sea-level rise, a shortage of estuarine sediments, more extreme weather events, and invasive species. Projects now cover a broader range of tidal and associated habitats, ranging from oyster and eelgrass areas to upland ecotone slopes that add ecological diversity and climate resiliency. This talk will discuss lessons learned from 40+ years of project implementation and explore emerging trends that look towards restoration’s future.

Restoration of Historical Tidal Wetlands for Compensatory Mitigation: Quantifying ecological lift
Kim Fettke
Wildlands, 3855 Atherton Rd, Rocklin 95765, 916.435.3555, kfettke@wildlandsinc.com
Wildlands has been working to restore the 59-acre proposed Newark Slough Wetland Mitigation and Species Conservation Bank (Bank) site as compensatory mitigation for impacts to aquatic resources, saltmarsh harvest mouse, and Ridgeway’s rail. Historically, the Bank site was tidal marsh, but it was isolated from tidal flows and used for salt production in the 1950s. Most of it now consists of salt flats that often pond rainwater during the winter. This degraded but jurisdictional habitat would be restored to tidal marsh habitat of higher value. Many in the regulatory community would like to quantify and regulate aquatic resources based on their functions and services, rather than just area, in hopes of more successfully reversing dramatic losses of these aquatic resources. A quantitative functional analysis has not been developed or adopted in California for this regulatory purpose. However, the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM), a measure of wetland condition, is becoming more widely used, and some hope to adapt this method for regulatory purposes. In order to determine the value of the ecological lift generated by the restoration of this jurisdictional habitat, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District requested that Wildlands propose a CRAM-based quantitative crediting approach. The proposed crediting approach quantifies the anticipated ecological lift using an assessment of ecological condition, and it could be adapted for universal regulatory use.

Tidal Restoration in the Suisun Marsh, Amidst Conflicting Regulatory Requirements and Permits
Robert Capriola1 and Priya Finnemore*2
1Westervelt Ecological Services, 916.646.3644, rcapriola@westervelt.com; 2Environmental Science Associates (ESA), 415.896.5900, pfinnemore@esassoc.com
A large number of regulatory agency approvals are needed for tidal restoration projects in the Suisun Marsh, and each agency has legal and policy requirements that often put those requirements in conflict with other agencies. Resolving these often unanticipated conflicts adds time to project approval and takes careful negotiation. Resulting long timelines for permit approval of tidal restoration projects increases cost and uncertainty when initiating projects for development. The Tule Red Tidal Restoration Project began planning and design in 2012, and involved a suite of resource agencies. Careful study of existing permits and approvals for other relevant projects provided a baseline of potential permit conditions, relevant interdependencies of other approvals, and approximate approval timelines. However, once environmental documents and permit applications were submitted in the spring of 2015, several conflicting agency requirements became apparent, making the process challenging, uncertain, time consuming, and ultimately costly. Based on our team’s experiences through the negotiation of final permits and project groundbreaking in the fall of 2016, we conclude that — within the Suisun Marsh, elsewhere in the Delta, and beyond — tidal restoration projects would benefit from programmatic solutions to policy and resource conflicts like the ones experienced in development of the Tule Red project.

The Balancing Act: Tidal restoration benefiting landowners and fish
Doreen Hansen
Humboldt County Resource Conservation District, 5630 South Broadway, Eureka 95503, 707.498.1072, dhhcrcd@gmail.com
One of the West Coast’s largest coastal stream and estuary restoration projects is currently being implemented in northern California. The Salt River Ecosystem Restoration Project is a private-public effort that consists of “reclaiming” 330 acres of tidal estuary from a former organic dairy ranch, and excavating and restoring 7 miles of river channel in the Eel River Delta. This project combines flood alleviation on agricultural lands with fish and wildlife benefits across much of the Delta. This presentation will provide a description of the overall project and progress made to date, but will focus on the tidal estuary restoration implemented in 2013. Learn about the tidal restoration construction elements that return hydrologic function and biological habitat fundamentals back to the system. Find out how the restoration is performing after three years through the successful, and not so successful, geomorphic, vegetative, and aquatic biological response thus far.

Laying Down a Framework for Standardized Monitoring — and Starting to Fill it In!
Rosemary Hartman*, Stacy Sherman, and Dave Contreras
Fish Restoration Monitoring Program, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2109 Arch Airport Road, Suite 100, Stockton 95206, Rosemary.Hartman@wildlife.ca.gov
The Interagency Ecological Program’s Tidal Wetland Monitoring Project Work Team has developed the “Tidal Wetland Monitoring Framework for the Upper San Francisco Estuary.” The Framework is a tool and resource to guide the development of hypothesis-based monitoring plans of the effectiveness of tidal wetland restoration for the benefit of listed fish species. The goal is to encourage scientifically sound monitoring that will result in data that are comparable across multiple restoration projects, while leaving room for learning and adaptation. Use of the Framework by multiple monitoring groups should facilitate a clearer understanding of landscape-level effects of tidal wetland restoration. Version 1.0 of the Framework will be posted online, and we welcome suggestions and feedback from users for future improvements to the document. We have been rigorously evaluating the methods we recommend to others, while at the same time collecting pre-project baseline data around restoration sites. We found broad differences in diversity of fish food resources across habitat types and across regions in the Delta. These results provide support for the hypotheses outlined in the Framework, but these are the first drops in the bucket of data necessary to show the benefit of wetland restoration for native fishes.

Design and Implementation of Tule Red Tidal Restoration Project in Suisun Marsh
Brian Wardman, PE1 and Chris Holland*2
1Northwest Hydraulics Consultants, 2600 Capital Avenue, Suite 140, Sacramento 95816, 916.371.7400, bwardman@nhcweb.com; 2Chris Holland*, Restoration Designer, Westervelt Ecological Services, 600 North Market Blvd., Suite 3, Sacramento 95834, 916.646.3644, cholland@westervelt.com
Tidal exchange is the driving process that creates and sustains tidal wetlands. The tidal exchange process delivers sediment, maintains channels, imports and exports nutrients, and promotes the growth of marsh vegetation allowing food web and natural ecological processes to occur. Tidal restoration designs should be processed-based designs focused on reestablishing these key processes. Design elements will vary based on site-specific conditions such as existing elevations, sediment size and availability, proximity of neighboring infrastructure, as well as regulatory and constructability constraints. These constraints must be understood within the framework of the processed-based design and addressed during the plan development. Functional design components required to satisfy species-specific project objectives or regulatory requirements can then be incorporated around the process-based design components. This presentation provides a case study discussing the design and implementation process of the Tule Red Tidal Restoration Site in Grizzly Bay. The approximate 400-acre managed-marsh is composed of recently deposited sediments covered with dense stands of low marsh vegetation. The project includes a breach of the existing marsh ridge and the excavation of over 7.5 miles of new marsh channels reconnecting the marsh to Grizzly Bay and enhancing marsh connectivity and geomorphic progression. Functional design concepts address objectives in the Suisun Marsh Plan, provide transitional upland habitat to accommodate projected sea level rise, and increase residence time within the site to enhance zooplankton growth. 

Bringing a Community Together While Restoring Habitats
Michelle Peruzzi*1 and Matt Yurko2
18 Conch Reef, Aliso Viejo 92656, michelleperuzzi@yahoo.com; 2California Coastal Commission’s Community-Based Restoration and Education Program, Back Bay Science Center, 600C Shellmaker Rd., Newport Beach 92660, myurko@coastal.ca.gov
The Community-Based Restoration and Education Program, located at the Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, has brought the local community together to turn a very disturbed area into a wonderful native habitat for the endangered Polioptila californica and other native species. The volunteers helping to restore this area include environmentally conscious student interns, who, as project leaders, are passionate about helping revive the habitat to its most natural state. Through on-site training in ecological restoration and environmental education, the students also learn the importance of restoring the environment and sharing these lessons with other volunteers. Volunteers have removed much of the invasive habitat that was previously growing there and replaced it with many native plants, which are now flourishing. This leader training program has been very successful with spreading the word about the importance of a healthy habitat. In this presentation, we will share the experiences of a student leader as well as the lessons learned in working with students as leaders to help restore their local environment.

Conservation, Restoration and ‘Reconciliation’: Site selection principles that don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good
Gregory Sutter
Westervelt Ecological Services, 600 North Market Blvd., Suite 3, Sacramento 95834, 916.646.3644, gsutter@westervelt.com
Site selection for the purpose of conservation has traditionally focused on identifying and setting aside pristine pieces of land for the purpose of maintaining landscape-scale biodiversity. Site selection for the purpose of restoration emphases the same conservation principles, but concentrates more on returning historically perfect sites, that have been impacted by humans, to their historically natural state for the same purpose. Some ecologists argue that there isn’t enough ideal or historically perfect land available to maintain biodiversity. They are encouraging restoration ‘reconciliation’. This approach focuses on ‘good’ restoration sites, that historically may fall short of being ‘perfect’, but due to the conservation landscape should get a second glance. This presentation focuses on the multi-disciplinary approach to site selection for the purpose of tidal marsh habitat restoration in the Delta. This process utilizes many different types of tools, but the principles of site selection are the same — focus on a landscape scale and watershed conservation approach, consult the experts and do your research. The presentation looks at four Delta projects; Tule Red Tidal Restoration Project, Potrero, Grizzly King, and Cosumnes Floodplain Mitigation Bank. Each was selected using the same site selection principles, but offer a look at conservation, restoration and reconciliation.

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