Release of Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report
Contact: John A. Dell’Osso, 415-464-5135
The National Park Service (NPS) announced today the release of the Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (DEIS/EIR). The DEIS/EIR has been developed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project proposes to restore more than 600 acres of wetland within the Waldo Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh, as well as to incorporate opportunities for the public to experience and enjoy the restored wetlands.
In 2000, the Park Service acquired the Waldo Giacomini Ranch for the purpose of wetland restoration. Because the Giacomini Ranch is in the northern district of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), it is managed by Point Reyes National Seashore (Seashore). The Seashore and Audubon Canyon Ranch jointly own Olema Marsh. The Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh represent approximately 12 percent of the total wetlands present along the outer central California coast, excluding San Francisco Bay. The NPS is the lead agency under NEPA and the agency managing the proposed project. The California State Lands Commission (CSLC), which owns the portion of Lagunitas Creek within the Project Area, is the lead agency under CEQA.
Release of the draft EIS/EIR is a key milestone in development of this landmark wetland restoration project, which would enhance the quality and functionality of more than 50 percent of wetlands within Tomales Bay. Planning for the proposed project was initiated in 2001, shortly after the Giacomini Ranch was purchased. Since then, the NPS and CSLC have conducted detailed studies and computer modeling to identify and characterize existing resources and issues and some of the complex technical challenges involved in restoring the Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh and incorporating public access opportunities. Throughout this process, the agencies have worked hard to involve the public and regulatory and local agencies in planning efforts through an extensive number of public meetings and workshops. Restoration activities could begin as early as fall 2007.
The Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project is somewhat unique within the NPS, because most of the funding has been raised from external sources. The NPS received mitigation monies from the California Department of Transportation to purchase the Waldo Giacomini Ranch and to initiate planning and wetland restoration efforts. Once planning for the proposed project was initiated, it quickly became obvious that more funds would be needed to fully restore the Giacomini Ranch wetlands. The Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA), a non-profit organization that provides direct and indirect support to the Seashore, has been spearheading efforts to raise more funds. Since 2004, the Seashore has raised more than $4.75 million in non-NPS funds for implementing the proposed restoration project, according to Gary Knoblock, executive director of PRNSA. PRNSA’s goal is to raise approximately $5.75 million, Knoblock said. "This has been an amazing experience for us, because we have been able to draw so many private and public partners that are really interested in seeing this project move forward," Knoblock said. "They, like the community, understand the importance of this project not only to TomalesBay, but to the greater San FranciscoBay region."
The draft EIS/EIR documents some of the important benefits that wetland restoration can provide for wildlife and humans. Natural wetlands provide habitat and food for hundreds of estuarine and marine wildlife species, many of which are listed by state and federal agencies as threatened or endangered. Because of its importance to wildlife, TomalesBay is not only part of the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, but in 2002, was nominated as a wetland of international importance under an international treaty called the Convention on Wetlands (commonly known as the Ramsar Convention). Some of the species expected to benefit from this project include the state threatened California black rail, federally and state endangered California clapper rail, federally endangered central California coast Coho salmon, federally threatened central California coastal steelhead salmon, federally endangered tidewater goby, and other species of concern such as the saltmarsh common yellowthroat and the southwestern river otter.
"This project will enhance not only the ecological health and integrity of TomalesBay, it will also add to the mosaic of tidal marsh habitat in the entire San FranciscoBay area," said Jules Evens, a prominent West Marin wildlife biologist. Evens stressed that regional marshes -- those within San FranciscoBay and along the outer coast -- are interconnected by the movement of wildlife, especially birds and fish. "This project will add over 500 acres to that habitat network and provide expanded opportunities for the growth and survival of many at-risk species,” Evens noted. The benefits to estuarine and marine species from restoring coastal wetlands in Tomales Bay may take on added importance in coming years given the precarious state of ocean fisheries, which a recent study in Science predicted could be on the verge of collapse from overfishing by middle of the 21st century.
In addition to supporting wildlife, restored wetlands can also provide other important benefits such as reducing flooding, improving water quality, and providing recreational opportunities and support of mariculture and fisheries industries. "I think that this project has importance well beyond the boundaries of the Bay itself: It has important benefits for people," said Phyllis Faber, a renowned MarinCounty wetland ecologist who is one of the pioneers of wetland restoration in this region. Decades ago, people did not recognize the vital importance of wetlands and treated them as worthless wastelands that should either be reclaimed for agriculture or used for dumping. Once the values of wetlands were finally recognized, many of them had already been eliminated or degraded. "In the 50s or 60s, we thought that, once a wetland was gone, that it was gone forever," Faber noted. "Now, we know that this is not true."
The Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project focuses on enhancing the quality and functionality of wetlands within the Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh by restoring natural hydrologic and ecological processes rather than attempting to recreate historic conditions or design a specific mix of wetland habitats. Natural hydrologic processes include those flooding and sediment transport or conveyance processes influenced by tides and by creeks flowing into TomalesBay from the upper portions of the watershed. Hydrologic and ecological processes and functions would be restored within the Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh by removing sources of pollution, discontinuing harmful management activities, and/or removing or improving infrastructure that limit or eliminate hydrologic processes such as levees, tidegates, and culverts. The DEIS/EIR evaluates four alternatives for restoring wetlands and wetland functionality and incorporating public access opportunities that do not impact wetland function, as well as the No Action Alternative.
Restoration of natural hydrologic processes through removal or replacement of levees, tidegates, and culverts and increased connectivity with historic floodplains would potentially reduce flooding within the local community by increasing the amount of floodplain available for storage of floodwaters. Hydrologic computer modeling conducted for the project suggests that, depending on the alternative, restoration could reduce the cumulative or total volume of floodwater conveyed in Lagunitas Creek during smaller flood events that recur, on average, every 2 years by as much as 10 to 20 percent through overbank flooding onto reconnected Giacomini Ranch floodplains. Benefits would be expected to increase somewhat with larger flood events, although levees already overtop during flood events ranging from 3.5-year to 12-year flood events depending on the exact location along the levees.
Increased connectivity of floodwaters with floodplains could also improve water quality, because floodwaters carry sediments, nutrients, pathogens, and contaminants that could now be deposited on floodplains rather than transported downstream to Tomales Bay. Water quality in Tomales Bay has suffered from a number of anthropogenic impacts, including agriculture, failing septic systems, mercury mining, landfill operations, and oil spills. Because of these impacts, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) declared waters of Tomales Bay and some of its creeks as impaired for sediment, pathogens, nutrients, and mercury under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. The potential value of the proposed project to improving Tomales Bay water quality is underscored by the fact that a studies have shown that two-thirds of water flowing into the Bay – and therefore the principal source of contaminants -- comes from Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries.
"The Watershed Council considers the Giacomini Marsh project to be one of the single most important wetland restoration projects in the region," said Neysa King, watershed coordinator for the Tomales Bay Watershed Council, a group of more than 30 organizations, agencies, and local community members that have been working for more than a decade to address the Bay’s pressing water quality problems. "By restoring a functioning wetland at the mouth of the Lagunitas Creek, we believe that it will increase the potential for these wetlands to filter and buffer waters transported downstream. This really could have immeasurable benefits for Tomales Bay."
The DEIS/EIR identifies Alternative C as the lead agencies’ preferred alternative, because it best meets the purpose of restoring wetlands while also providing opportunities for public access that answer some of the local community’s needs. During the extensive public scoping efforts conducted, many members of the local and regional communities expressed a desire to be able to view and experience the restored wetland, which is why public access was selected as one of the project’s objectives. The four action alternatives incorporate a range of public access opportunities that allow people to enjoy the restored wetlands without impacting them and thereby conflicting with the purpose of the project. The lead agencies’ preferred alternative would involve complete removal of Giacomini Ranch levees along Lagunitas Creek, partial realignment of Tomasini Creek, some tidal channel creation, restoration and revegetation of upland and riparian areas, and restoration of Olema Marsh. A southern perimeter trail would be created between White House Pool County park and Point Reyes Station via a non-vehicular bridge across Lagunitas Creek, and two spur trails would be created along the eastern perimeter on the old railroad grade.
The DEIS/DEIR is available on-line from the Seashore's website at http://www.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/planning_giacomini_wrp.htm. If you wish to obtain a CD or hardcopy version of the document, you may request a copy by email (in subject line type: Giacomini Wetlands Restoration Plan) and a copy will be mailed to you.
A public information workshop will be held at Point ReyesNationalSeashorePark Headquarters on Thursday, January 25, between 6:30 and 8:30 pm in the Red Barn Classroom. The meeting will provide background information regarding the proposed plan and the alternatives for restoration of the former Giacomini Ranch and Olema Marsh.
Persons who wish to submit written comments on the DEIS/DEIR are encouraged to do so. Written comments may be mailed to Superintendent, Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, CA 94956, Attention: Giacomini Wetlands Restoration Plan, or submitted by email. The DEIS/DEIR will be available for comments for a 60-day period. All comments must be postmarked or transmitted no later than Wednesday, February 14, 2007.