Science

Enough Mud to Fill 670 Skyscrapers?

by | May 9, 2021

Graphic: SFEI

How much mud do we need to save Bay Area marshes from rising seas and how will we move it into position? If the future is drier there’s one answer, and if it’s wetter another (see chart), but the ballpark is 477,000,000 cubic yards. That’s the amount of sediment needed to sustain the ring of wetlands now protecting shoreline communities and infrastructure from a rising Bay, according to a new SF Estuary Institute report. Moving this much sediment into the right places–enough to fill the Sales Force skyscraper 670 times–will require the largest multi-decade public works project in the Bay Area’s history, says the Institute’s Warner Chabot. The report explores various nature-assisted methods of deploying the necessary material, ranging from spraying mud on the marsh surface and seeding it into the water column to placing it in the shallows near needy marshes. It also does a supply and demand breakdown, and reviews various sediment sources. Some, like dredged sediment now dumped at sea, are being wasted at a time when every grain is gold. Hard edges don’t have much flex when it comes to changing conditions, so climate-ready infrastructure needs to be softer and greener. Indeed, the local push to reinvent Bay Area shorelines defines exactly what Biden’s reimagined infrastructure for the 21st century is all about. Science-based solutions with an assist from nature.

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About The Author

Ariel Rubissow Okamoto

is KneeDeep’s managing editor. She is a Bay Area environmental writer and editor and co-author of a Natural History of San Francisco Bay (UC Press 2011). For the last decade, she’s been reporting on innovations in climate adaptation on the bayshore (Bay Nature). She is also an occasional essayist for the San Francisco Chronicle. In other lives, she has been a vintner, soccer mom, and waitress. She lives in San Francisco close to the Bay with her architect husband Paul Okamoto.