From the northern tip of San Jose, or nearly anywhere with a view of the south San Francisco Bay, you can look to the south east shore that is Newark and see a white mound. That white mound, if you go to Newark for a visit, is a giant mountain of salt!
Notice the telephone poles on the left of the above photo. Or the railroad cars on the right. That is a big mountain of salt. It gets bigger or smaller as the harvesting cycles through. It is the only solar evaporative salt production facility in the U.S., producing 500,000 tons of sea salt each year!
The history of salt collection on the San Francisco Bay goes back hundreds of years with the Ohlone Native Americans collecting salt along the bay shore. Commercial production began in 1854 during the gold rush. Water is pumped or flows from one evaporation pond in the bay to the next, taking 3 to 5 years (depending on the source read) and traveling miles through the pond network before the water has evaporated enough; concentrating the salt in the final pond for harvesting, cleaning, and packaging on the shore of Newark.
It’s amazing to see so much salt! My kids are as surprised as I that a product acquired by evaporating water out is then washed in water as part of the cleaning process without washing it all away. It’s interesting to imagine the long journey these salt molecules make out there, suspended in ocean and bay water for countless years, bonding and crystalizing with their neighbors, being piled up so high, cleaned and packaged for anyone to buy at a local grocery store. Salt is so much more interesting to taste when you imagine where its been all these years.
Today, much of the former salt pond area of the bay is part of a marshland restoration project to bring back the natural habitats while keeping a smaller area for salt harvesting. Modern efficiency has increased production with a smaller footprint. We are still in the early years so it will be interesting to see the continued changes along the bay in the years to come.
Below is a photo from northern San Jose in Alviso where you can see the giant salt mountain in the center across the bay.