The Bay Model of San Francisco


By Natalie Leong

       The Bay Model of San Francisco, situated in the US Army Corps of Engineers in Sausalito, provides a detailed and sophisticated plan for studying the water flow seen in the San Francisco Bay. Built in 1954, the model had been used for 46 years to assist decisions regarding water-related projects, as well as a research tool for hydraulic science. In 2000, it became open to the public, allowing us to appreciate the complexities behind the Bay as well as forming a learning platform for hundreds of students.

        A key aspect of the Bay Model is the preciseness of its replication, from the basic scales of depth and width to its salinity levels. In comparison to the Bay, it is 100 times shallower and 1000 times smaller in terms of width and length. The area of the Bay Model is also 1,000,000 times smaller and has an astounding 100,000,000 times less water than the actual Bay! In order to reduce the required observation time for scientists and the public alike, an hour in the Bay is 36 seconds in the model, with the salinity level being exactly the same. Having a fresh source of water from the Marin Municipal Water District with added amounts of salt resulted in this balanced salinity.

        The durability and accuracy of this 400 feet long model has often been questioned, as well as the usage of peculiar colors painted on the model and its miniature copper pieces dotted around the channels. The copper tabs are extremely important, as they simulate the friction found on the floor of the Bay. To produce a realistic effect and accuracy of the locations, certain colors represent different features; for example, red represents transportation routes, green indicates the parks and marshlands, beige the cities and towns, etc. Undoubtedly, the model has had minor leaks before, as it was originally created from a combination of oakum and tar, but now, it has been recreated to be sealed with a flexible membrane reinforced with cloth.

        The importance of the Bay Model has constantly been underestimated, but the role it plays in decision-makings regarding the flow of water is astounding. Utilizing the model, scientists have been able to experiment, as well as to limit the intrusion of salt-water in the Delta in order to assist agricultural growth – something that is vital to California’s economy. The effects of rainfall, wastewater, and the consequences of an oil spill can be simulated through the model, as well as the prediction of how it could be most effectively contained. Over the years, several plans and proposals have been tested using the Bay Model before its implementation. Some of the proposals have since been rejected, including the famous Reber Plan, which proposed to fill in parts of the San Francisco Bay.

        In the end, the Bay Model is one of the most essential parts of water flow management in the bay area, whether we are aware of that or not. The dedication and the enthusiasm required to build such an immense model is extraordinary. Having such an incredible model saved the Bay from the brink of ecological deterioration, and it shows that with combined efforts and strength, we can preserve a hometown that reflects its true magnificence. Ultimately, the Bay Model of San Francisco is one of the most significant educational platforms in our city, and visiting it was definitely a valuable experience.