Reference Tuesdays: Dam SF Bay?

WRCA receives a number of unique research queries, many of which are of interest to the larger population. With that in mind, WRCA offers up Reference Tuesdays, in which we will bi-weekly post oft-asked or general interest reference questions along with our answers.

Dam San Francisco Bay?
Since the 1860s, Californians contemplated the idea of building a dam between salty San Francisco Bay and the fresh water Delta. The most seriously considered were proposed in the 1940s-60s.

1940s
The most popular proposal came in the 1940s, when non-engineer John Reber came up with a plan to create two fresh water lakes in the upper and lower bays by means of dams between Richmond and Marin County, and San Francisco and Oakland. Over these would pass high-speed roadways. The Reber Plan claimed to provide 20,000 acres of additional filled land, increase the deep water harbor by 50 miles, and conserve 2,400,000 acre-feet of fresh water annually. Critics pointed out the plan’s destruction of commercial fisheries, increased sewage disposal problems, adverse effects on the ports of Oakland, Stockton, and Sacramento and flooding potential. Although it attracted considerable attention, the Reber Plan found little support among engineers and was never adopted.

The Reber Plan and associated materials are held in WRCA’s “San Francisco Bay Saline Water Barrier Collection” (call no. MS 84/3). A guide to the contents of this collection is available via the finding aid, hosted at the Online Archive of California (OAC).

1959-1960s
A 1959 Army Corps report spurred the Oakland Tribune’s dramatic 1960 graphic of proposed San Francisco Bay fill, which in turn inspired Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick to found Save San Francisco Bay Association, now known as Save The Bay. The report consists of several volumes; listed below are citations for those parts most relevant to Bay fill (reclamation) and proposed barriers. WRCA holds the complete set.

Future development of the San Francisco Bay area, 1960-2020 : economic aspects of comprehensive survey of San Francisco Bay and tributaries / prepared and published for U. S. Army Engineer District, San Francisco, Corps of Engineers. [Washington] 1959. Description: 1 v. (various pagings) : diagrs., tables ; 26 cm. and portfolio 21 fold. maps (part col.) 30 cm. Note: Includes bibliographical references (p. E 1-E 12)
*The 21 folded maps are in a box labeled G4203 YE2-1 no.1 v.2. Plate 21 is most likely the graphic upon which the Oakland Tribune’s was based. (WRCA call no. G4203 YE2-1 no.1)

A special report on fish and wildlife resources affected by salinity control barriers and tideland reclamation, San Francisco Bay area, California / United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
Portland, Or. : The Service, 1961. Description: 9, vii, 105 leaves, [18] leaves of plates : ill., maps; 26 cm.
Note: Cover title: Salinity control barriers and tideland reclamation, San Francisco Bay area, California. (WRCA call no. G4203 YE2-1 no.3)

Estimated evaporation and evapotranspiration losses under various proposed barrier plans of the San Francisco Bay system, California. Berkeley, Calif. : Western Soil and Water Management Research Branch, 1959. Description: 54 p. : ill., maps ; 27 cm. Note: Cover title: “Prepared for U.S. Army Engineer District, San Francisco Corps of Engineers Comprehensive Survey of San Francisco Bay and Tributaries, California.”
Note: Includes bibliographical references. (WRCA call no. G4203 YE2-1 no.5A)

Suitability of reclaimed marsh, tide and submerged lands in the San Francisco Bay area for agriculture / by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Soil and Water Conservation Research Division, Western Soil and Water Management Research Branch. Berkeley, Calif. : Western Soil and Water Management Research Branch, 1959. Description: ix, 77 p. : ill., maps ; 26 cm. Note: Cover title: “Prepared for U.S. Army Engineer District, San Francisco Corps of Engineers Comprehensive Survey of San Francisco Bay and Tributaries, California.” Note: Bibliography: p. 76-77. (WRCA call no. G4203 YE2-1 no.5B)

Reber Plan


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