, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 73-91

Influence of physical processes on the design, functioning and evolution of restored tidal wetlands in California (USA)

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The performance of two intertidal wetland mitigation projects constructed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (SMNWR) in San Diego Bay was evaluated over 5 years. Most of the Sweetwater wetland complex has been altered this century, including diking (with subsequent subsidence), filling, modification of the tidal regime, freshwater inflow and sediment fluxes. The mitigation project goals included a range of functional criteria intended to support two endangered bird species (light-footed clapper rail and California least tern) and one endangered plant (salt marsh bird's-beak). While the mitigation projects have achieved some of the performance criteria established in the regulatory permits (particularly, those related to fish), vegetation criteria for one of the bird species have not been met. The initial grading (in relation to local tidal datums) should support the target plant species, but growth has been less than required. Shortcomings of the habitat include elevated soil and groundwater salinity, low nutrient levels (especially nitrogen, which is readily leached from the coarse substrate), and eroding topography (where a single oversized and overly sinous channel and the lower-than-natural marshpalin result in high velocity surface water flow and erosion). The failure to achieve a large plain at low-marsh elevations highlights the importance of a more complete understanding of the relationship between the site physical processes (topography, hydrology, climate, geomorphology), substrate conditions, and biotic responses.