As an eager crowd of conservationists gathers to watch an excavator scoop out the final portion of the old levee at the historic Cullinan Ranch, located at the north end of San Pablo Bay, it seems even Mother Nature can't wait.
"All right folks, let's move on in here. The site's going to breach on its own if we don't get going!" says Russ Lowgren of Ducks Unlimited, the conservation nonprofit that engineered the technical aspect of this effort to restore tidal flow to former farmlands after more than a century.
When the final bit of earth was removed on Tuesday, bay waters began to rush down to the vast landscape underneath. After years of hay and oat production, the 1,500-acre site sunk 4 feet below sea level.
San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager Anne Morkill says the project involved careful planning to avoid erosion of the adjacent Highway 37.
"This project is a key piece of the puzzle in restoring the lost wetlands of the north San Francisco Bay," says Morkill.
For wetland biologist Francesca Demgen, it's an emotional victory. Demgen is among those who began the fight to protect the area from further development in 1983.
"This is one of the most important things I've done in in my life, it truly is," says Demgen.
The more than $16 million effort included funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Castro Cove Trustee Council.
Officials say the restored site, which is in Solano County near Mare Island, will host an array of Bay Area residents, human and otherwise. The new habitat will eventually be open to hikers, cyclists and kayakers, as well as endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse.
The process that will transform the area from open-water habitat to a fully mature tidal marsh is expected to take about 60 years.