San Francisco Bay Chapter Sierra Club

Wetlands are essential for filtering out pollutants and are our most productive type of habitat

Shorelines, Wetlands, and the Bay

Many of our most environmentally sensitive areas are shorelines (on both Bay and ocean) and wetlands. They are also among the most biologically productive ecosystems.

An immense variety of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals need wetlands for part or all of their life cycles. More than 1/3 of all threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some time in their lives. For decades we have worked, with considerable effectiveness, to stop development of wetlands and shorelines and to bring them into public ownership and protection.

Now rising sea levels bring a new threat. Of all habitats, shorelines are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As sea levels rise—and they are already doing so (you can find sea-level rise maps at the Pacific Insitute website)—low-lying lands are submerged or turned brackish, bluffs are eroded, and coastal development is threatened and destroyed. These effects are already happening, and even if human greenhouse-gas emissions were stopped tomorrow, we’d be facing these problems for decades. In the worst-case scenario, 93% of San Francisco Bay’s tidal marsh could be lost in the next 50 to 100 years.

We must find ways to adapt to this inevitability. We can stop placing people and businesses in harm’s way by not allowing development in projected inundation zones and flood plains. We can lessen beach erosion through building natural habitats such as kelp forests and oyster beds, which act as wave breaks. We can protect shorelines by stabilizing dunes and establishing vegetation barriers. We can allow for the expansion of wetlands, valuable in their own right for their natural diversity, and also as flood buffers. And we can make choices to concede to nature and plan retreat from the shore, often the most cost-effective and safest option.

San Francisco waterfront

San Francisco is where it is and what it is because of its waterfront location. The Bay Chapter has been deply involved in fighting inappropriate development projects in recent years. We succeeded in stopping two such projects (8 Washington and Piers 30-32) and are working to stop others (75 Howard Street and Seawall Lot 337/Pier 48). In June of 2014, 59% of the electorate across the city supported Proposition B to limit height limits along  7.5 miles of waterfront under Port jurisdiction, unless approved by the voters. In November of 2014, city voters will have the opportunity to approve a development at Pier 70 that would restore historic buildings, create thousands of jobs, and develop affordable housing, workspace for artists, and new waterfront. Approval of the Pier 70 development is the next logical step following the passage of Prop. B; it will demonstrate that Prop. B’s mandate can work.

» Learn more about the San Francisco Bay Chapter's efforts to protect the San Francisco shoreline.

Bay wetlands

The Bay Chapter has a long tradition of working to protect the wetlands along the bayshore. Sometimes this takes the form of opposing inappropriate development; sometimes of working for protective zoning or acquisition of the lands by a public agency.

Shoreline parks

We work to create and protect parks along much of the Bay shoreline.

» For more details see "Parks and Open Space".

California Coastal Commission

The Sierra Club was deeply involved in the initiative campaign that passed Proposition 20 in 1972, establishing the California Coastal Commission as the guardian of the state's shoreline, and we have worked actively ever since to strengthen its powers and to make sure that it does its job well.

See all Yodeler articles on the Shorelines, Wetlands, and the Bay.

A California water primer

» Introduction
» Finding out about your water
» Who uses how much? California water by the numbers
» The potential for water conservation
» Water and power: joined at the hip
» The watershed approach to planning
» Making all our landscapes water-wise landscapes
» Where there's rain, there's runoff: integrated water management begins at home