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San Diego Salt Works

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Tip of the Week: April 4, 2009


"Discretion is the salt, and fancy the sugar of life; the one preserves, the other sweetens it."
- John Christian Bovee -

You'd never know that Americans are cutting down on their salt intake by the looks of it. From the fenceline, it looks as though tectonic plates moved and Mammoth Mountain has gone coastal. If this "Tip" doesn't do it for you, then we just ask that you take it with a grain of salt.

The most well-seasoned amongst us probably never realized that what sits on the bay in Chula Vista is the second oldest commercial business in San Diego. The South Bay Salt Works has been cranking out sodium for over 100-years on this 1,300-acre site dating back to 1916.

The South Bay Salt Works has had different names over the years, but it has been processing salt from the salt ponds pretty much the same way throughout its 100-year history. Given the San Diego climate and the location of the property, the solar evaporation process of commercial-grade salt is fairly unique though it looks somewhat archaic.

Salt became a thriving business in California in the 1860's. San Diego got in the game in 1871. It was Western Salt Company, the original owner of the business at this site, that forged the biggest gains in the industry, eventually chomping on the heels of San Francisco's lead in producing salt using the solar salt evaporation process. Currently, San Francisco has the only other salt harvesting processing plant in California.

Interestingly, in these times, the Salt Works and the natural environment don't compete but rather co-exist in an environmentally-friendly way and actually enhance the environment for shorebirds, other migratory birds, and the surrounding ecosystem. In fact, a portion of this processing plant is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge which is home to over 94 species of birds.

Though this business, ironically, is threatened by the prospective talons of future development at this site, it continues to produce about 75,000 tons of salt per year. The salt pulled from the local waters goes through a lengthy (1 year+) evaporation process in the huge ponds. The pond flows are manipulated until the water evaporates and only salt remains. The salt is harvested, washed, screened and packaged on the premises.

Future development ideas for the area, including the potential stadium for the San Diego Chargers, only rubs salt in the wounds of those trying to protect the natural environment and endangered species but it also threatens the viability of this 100-year old local San Diego business.

Any business interest worth their salt should recognize both the historical value of the Salt Works and the environmental asset that sits on the shores of Chula Vista.

South Bay Salt Works
1470 Bay Boulevard Chula Vista
Map - South Bay Salt Works

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