Initial plans to utilize constructed wetlands in Arcata's wastewater treatment were denied by the State of California on the grounds that discharging wastewater effluent into Humboldt Bay violated the Federal Clean Water Act. The Federal Clean Water Act stipulated that wastewater effluent could not be discharged into a bay or estuary unless the discharge constituted an enhancement to the body of water into which it was being discharged. As part of addressing this stipulation, the city sought to include the three enhancement marshes of the current Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary as part of the Arcata Waterwater Treatment Plant.
In 1979 the city's plans to restore the area from condemned landfill and abandoned mill site into wetlands, like those seen in Figure 2, led to interest from the California Coastal Conservancy. The City of Arcata was given a grant by the Coastal Conservancy for the creation of the three enhancement marshes. These marshes were named after three of the initial supporters for the constructed wetland system; Dr. Bob Gearheart, Dr. George Allen, and Dan Hauser. Construction proceeded over the next four years (City of Arcata 2007).
Gearheart Marsh had formerly been pasture land, Allen Marsh had been an abandoned log deck prior to restoration and Hauser Marsh was the former site of a barrow pit for the previously sealed landfill (FOAM 2008A).
Construction of the entire project was completed in 1986. Over the subsequent decades the wastewater treatment facility and marsh system became a model for the way in which a city can incorporate environmental restoration into the city's basic needs for water treatment in a fiscally responsible and efficient manner.