By Associated Press - Monday, October 26, 2015

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) - An excavator’s shovel broke open a hole in a 140-year-old levee holding back saltwater in Northern California in a bid to turn 1,000 acres of farmland into a tidal marsh basin.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports ( ) that supporters and partners of the Sonoma Land Trust gathered Sunday to watch an excavator break through a Sears Point levee, allowing saltwater to flood over the reclaimed oat fields.

Officials say it will take decades for the marshland’s vegetation and wildlife to return.

The Sonoma County Land Trust has excavated a channel for the tidal water to enter the field and built a new levee protecting the railroad tracks about a mile to the north, which will become the new northern edge of San Pablo Bay.

Organizers plan to widen the hole to a football-field length breach.

“We’re going to see ducks coming in, and wading birds like herons and egrets … eventually, salmon could move in here,” said Don Brubaker, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials. The service is one of several governmental agencies and nonprofit groups involved in the restoration project.

Residential and commercial developers have longed coveted the site near the Sonoma Raceway about 35 miles north of San Francisco. An Indian tribe abandoned plans to build a casino there after environmental groups and local politicians protested.

The land trust raised $20 million to acquire the property in 2005 and raised another $18 million for the restoration work. Major donors included the state Wildlife Conservation Board ($5 million), California Coastal Conservancy ($3.2 million) and the Environmental Protection Agency ($2.5 million).


Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat,

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