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$63 million wetland restoration could be a blueprint for how California adapts to climate change. But it’s taking forever

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Monday, December 6, 2021

In the Contra Costa County town of Oakley, the restored Dutch Slough wetlands are bordered by housing developments and dairy farms, with Mount Diablo towering in the distance. When completed, the $63 million restoration will be the largest of its kind in California, creating habitat for endangered salmon and other wildlife in a blueprint for how the state can become more resilient to climate change.

The state Department of Water Resources, which leads the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, hopes it will be a model for many other restorations, with a goal to restore 30,000 acres of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s original 360,000 acres of wetlands long lost to farms and housing.

At a time when worldwide greenhouse emission-reduction targets aren’t being met, scientists are looking at ways to adapt to global warming; wetland restoration in San Francisco Bay and the sprawling delta holds a key strategy. Wetlands lessen destruction from flooding caused by storms and sea level rise, and also can recharge drought-starved aquifers, since they hold and release water gradually.

They also perform a key role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it long term.

“You can put carbon in forests, where it can get burned,” said Dennis Baldocchi, professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “But if you put it in wetlands, it can stay a very long time. The limitation is we have a limited amount of land area we can convert.”

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