San Francisco Estuary Partnership-led Project to Protect Bay Receives Funding to Start Construction

Palo Alto Horizontal Levee

A first-of-its-kind horizontal levee project providing a host of ecological benefits — led by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and the city of Palo Alto — has received $2.1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for construction in Fall 2024. 

Horizontal levees utilize a gently vegetated slope to provide multiple benefits including wave mitigation, enhancement of transitional habitat between tidal wetlands and terrestrial uplands, and filtering treated wastewater. 

The project will use highly treated wastewater from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant in Palo Alto to irrigate a vegetated horizontal levee prior to release into San Francisco Bay. The project will be the first in the region to receive treated wastewater for irrigation prior to discharge via shallow surface/subsurface seepage to the bay.

"This project represents a major step forward for innovative design and nature-based solutions in the SF Bay," said Heidi Nutters, Senior Program Manager with the Estuary Partnership. "It highlights our ability to co-create solutions inspired by nature and we are excited to be part of the work." 

Among the project’s objectives:

  • Adapt to sea level rise by providing a transitional slope that will support sediment growth and accumulation.  
  • Improve and restore habitat along the harbor marsh perimeter for native species, while maintaining and providing opportunities for low-impact recreation and public engagement with nature.
  • Integrate a horizontal levee on the bayfront of a traditional flood control levee to slow wave action and provide vegetative protection for the levee’s core. 

The leading-edge project that sees the integration of habitat enhancement with sea level rise adaptation and novel wastewater treatment approaches around the San Francisco Bay is part of the Transforming Urban Water Initiative

The San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked on the project since 2018 in close partnership with the City of Palo Alto and a broad range of community partners, including Save The Bay, Environmental Volunteers, Nuestra Casa and others. Funders include U.S. EPA Region 9, City of Palo Alto and the  State Coastal Conservancy. 

In all, the partnership received $4,329,459 in funding that will be used to promote a suite of nature-based solutions, from planning and design to implementation and monitoring, for communities across the San Francisco Bay area. 

Hosted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the San Francisco Estuary Partnership is a collaboration of local, state and federal agencies; non-governmental organizations; and academic and business leaders working to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The Estuary Partnership was established in 1988 by the state of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act’s National Estuary Program when the San Francisco Estuary was designated as an estuary of national significance.