PepsiCo and Ducks Unlimited restore San Luis National Wildlife Refuge wetlands

The project enhanced 669 wetland acres in California’s East Bear Creek Unit

© Mike Peters

To help PepsiCo achieve its Net Water Positive goals by 2030 in high-risk watersheds like the San Joaquin Valley, Ducks Unlimited (DU), the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to wetland conservation, invested $625,000 from PepsiCo Foods North America to help deliver a multi-benefit floodplain reconnection project in the northern San Joaquin Valley. The project was conducted on the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge’s (NWR) East Bear Creek Unit in the heart of the Grasslands Ecological Area.

PepsiCo’s Net Water Positive goal is to reduce absolute water use and replenish back into the local watershed more than 100% of the water used at company-owned and third-party sites in high-water-risk areas.

The project, completed last fall, enhanced 669 acres of seasonally flooded managed wetlands and included recreating historic floodplain connections that will mimic the historic function of the San Joaquin River floodplain. Before the alteration of the watershed, the river flooded in the winter and spring and provided habitat for waterfowl and wildlife, but also other benefits, most notably recharging the aquifer. By enlarging the footprint of flooded wetlands and diversifying wetland management options, this project will now be able to provide substantial aquifer recharge benefits alongside improved habitats for thousands of wintering waterfowl species. As a result, refuge managers can move water between wetland units instead of losing the water into flood spillways. This allows water to stay on the landscape longer, mimicking historic flood patterns and helping recharge groundwater.

The largest remaining wetland complex west of the Mississippi River is the Grassland Ecological Area – a 160,000-acre wetland complex in the northern part of the valley along the San Joaquin River recognized as Wetland of International Importance. This habitat provides food resources and a resting area for millions of migratory birds that annually winter along the Pacific Flyway.

A group of project stakeholders, including officials from Merced County, the City of Los Banos, Grassland Water District, San Luis NWR staff and representatives from DU and PepsiCo, toured the completed project in March.

“As a leader in wetland conservation, Ducks Unlimited is proud to partner with PepsiCo on this multi-benefit project,” said DU Western Region Director of Operations Jeff McCreary. “The East Bear Creek project shows how improving wetlands that benefit Pacific Flyway migratory birds also replenishes groundwater in highly stressed watersheds like the San Joaquin. Partnerships are a key to our success and this is a win-win for waterfowl, other wildlife, and people.”

Agriculture is a significant sector in California’s economy and the San Joaquin Valley, south of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, is the most productive agricultural region in the world. Unfortunately, the valley is also among California’s most high-water-risk areas where extreme drought has compounded water scarcity.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.