EWN Built Projects

Section 1122 Shallow Water Strategic Placement Pilot Project

Project Information

The Section 1122 Strategic Shallow Water Placement Pilot Project pilots a novel approach to beneficially reusing dredged material for mudflat and salt-marsh resilience to sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay. Strategic shallow water placement is where sediment dredged from federal navigation channel is deposited at a shallow location adjacent to a mudflat or tidal marsh so that natural hydrodynamic and morphodynamic processes can move the sediment onto the mudflat and marsh.

In the San Francisco Bay area, the current paradigm of Beneficial Use of Dredged Material (BUDM) is to place material directly on subsided Baylands to raise site elevations to adjacent marsh plains, thereby supporting rapid development of tidal marsh vegetation and habitat. Subsided restoration sites that are breached without raising site elevations are projected to take 60–75 years to develop into tidal marsh. BUDM can cut development time down to 10–15 years. This is important because restored marshes breached without sediment supply may not accrete fast enough to respond to future rates of sea level rise. Although direct placement is a critical tool for subsided Baylands, it can be a costly restoration strategy. Placing material can be difficult due to access issues from both the Bay-side (too shallow) and the land-side (bank stability, concerns about habitat and wildlife impacts).  Strategic placement methods that utilize natural processes to drive tidal marsh development may provide cost savings.

The Project

The goal of the Section 1122 Strategic Shallow Water Placement Pilot Project is to determine if this EWN approach can be a successful, lower-cost method to achieve beneficial use relative to the cost of traditional placement options (i.e., ocean, in-Bay, or upland sites).

This Engineering with Nature (EWN) approach will augment sediment supply in a sediment-starved system to leverage existing morphodynamic processes to transport sediment toward mudflat-marsh systems for habitat reconstruction. The proposed project would mimic natural sediment supply to wetlands by placing sediment in shallow water on the periphery of the Bay to examine the ability of tides and currents to move the placed material to existing mudflats and marshes.  Material would be sourced from a nearby federal San Francisco Bay navigation channel dredging project.

This project will include robust monitoring protocols using appropriate methods and techniques to determine sediment deposition and impacts from strategic placement. The results of this pilot project will provide a better understanding of:

  • the scale of sediment deposition post-placement at the placement site, on the intertidal mudflat, and on the adjacent tidal marsh;
  • the wind, wave, and sediment flux conditions pre- and postplacement across the interconnected subtidal-mudflat-marsh complex;
  • the impacts to benthic (i.e., Bay bottom) habitats, and communities;
  • the spatial extent of the effect zone;
  • the temporal scale of disturbance and recovery time; and,
  • whether there will be any detrimental impacts to eelgrass beds, oyster beds, or similar environmental resources.

Sites were selected using hydrodynamic and sediment transport modeling to determine optimal locations for sediment deposition to promote healthy coastal ecosystems within the SF Bay. 

Ecological Benefits

San Francisco Bay’s historical mudflats and marshlands have long provided critical habitat for California’s native species.  Strategic placement operations sustain these coastal wetlands by using natural processes to transport sediment and provide nourishment for long-term wetland restoration efforts. By analyzing tidal forces in the Bay, the San Francisco District determines optimal locations to place dredge material that will provide sustainable and effective rehabilitation for wetlands at risk of inundation because of sea level rise.

Social Benefits

Strategic shallow water placement for dredge material utilizes a nature-based approach to flood risk management for some of California’s most vulnerable coastal communities.  Building up the San Francisco Bay’s historical mudflats and marshlands creates natural barrier systems that can mitigate the effects of sea level rise and protect key infrastructure from tidal forces during storm events.  Sustaining wetlands will protect communities from coastal storm damages while also improving recreational spaces along the waterfront.

Economic Benefits

Shallow water strategic placement supports a cost-effective innovative approach to dredging operations in the San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco District conducts critical dredging operations throughout the San Francisco Bay to maintain channels and ensure robust maritime commerce. Utilizing strategic placement of dredge material reduces project costs and supports habitat restoration efforts throughout the region.  Placing dredge material in nearshore shallows of San Francisco Bay where tidal forces will naturally replenish targeted wetlands will increase flood protection measures for coastal communities and municipal structures along the SF Bay coastline.

Point of Contact

EWN Coastal Practice Lead, Environmental Planning Section Chief, San Francisco District