Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT
Julian Meisler stood on a human-made levee at low tide along the shore of San Pablo Bay, surveying 1,000 acres of a dark brown, mostly barren mud flat.
“That’s exactly what we want to see,” said Meisler.
He is the project manager of Sonoma Land Trust’s 15-year campaign to restore wetlands intended to protect the Highway 37 corridor — with both a roadway and rail line — from flooding exacerbated by sea level rise.
And now the levee, a victim of erosion from wind waves, is being fortified by an unprecedented restoration project using hundreds of trees — some salvaged from wildfire burn areas — to blunt the waves and promote wildlife habitat.
It’s been six years since the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s Sears Point project breached the levee built 140 years ago to create farmland, and tides have since deposited two to four feet of sediment in the nascent wetlands.
At high tide, the mud flat becomes a lagoon up to two and a half feet deep, harboring shorebirds, waterfowl, river otters, bat rays and leopard sharks. People ply the water with canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards, while hiking trails lead along the shore in what is now the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The project’s ultimate goal remains years away, when six feet of sediment gives root to vegetation transforming the wetlands into a verdant marsh, teeming with wildlife and absorbing high tides.