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[whitespace] County buys land for wetlands renewal

Sunnyvale--The Santa Clara Valley Water District has purchased 321 acres of land worth $6.1 million along Sunnyvale's San Francisco Bay border. The district plans to restore the area to its natural state to create environments similar to those destroyed by flood-control work, said Mike Di Marco, spokesman for the water district.

Though the land falls just outside Sunnyvale's borders, Councilwoman Julia Miller, an environmental advocate, said she was delighted by the prospect of the salt pond reverting to wetlands. She said walkers on the Sunnyvale portion of the Bay Trail, which opened last year, will benefit from the improved aesthetics and the chance to see more wildlife. "It's just wonderful," she said.

Cargill Salt Inc., an international agriculture and mining company, uses the area for salt ponds. Di Marco said during the last two years, the water district has removed silt from creeks throughout the county to increase flow to the bay and reduce floods. The work, however, intruded on the habitat of many species of birds and plants. To meet state and federal environment guidelines, the water district had to replace affected areas with something environmentally similar.

"You have to make up any habitat that you disrupt," Di Marco said. The purchase of the land will mitigate damage resulting from the flood work, he said. Areas of Santa Clara County are prone to street flooding when swollen creeks flow into a rising tide, he said.

The water district paid for the land with voter approved fee on households.

Di Marco said he anticipated other benefits. New plants, he said, will protect the area from erosion and filter pollutants flowing to the bay.

"When you restore tidal wetland area, you promote nutrient plant life that acts as filter for pollutants before they hit the bay," Di Marco said.

Lori Johnson, spokeswoman for Cargill, said the water district's offer made it worth their while to abandon salt-mining operation on the land. The company maintains many more salt ponds along the South Bay coast. Cargill will continue operating at the pond, gradually moving its resources elsewhere, Di Marco said. After two years, the salinity of the pool should become equal to that of the bay.

The water district then will remove the levies and allow nature to take over. Di Marco said the area should return to conditions prior to the salt-mining explosion that accompanied the Gold Rush more than 150 years ago.

The wetlands renewal will accommodate the return of a variety of species, but the public will have to enjoy it from afar. The public will not have direct access to the area itself, Di Marco said.
Sam Scott

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