Note: The Sandpiper is proud to present a 3-part series about the role of the Del Mar San Dieguito Lagoon Committee in preserving and restoring the Lagoon. Phase I, presented in our November issue, dealt with early history: getting organized and shaping the vision.
Nancy Weare | Ocean View Avenue
and Dawn Rawls | Klish Way
The San Dieguito Lagoon. Photo Stu Smith
Throughout the story of the Lagoon’s restoration runs the undercurrent of engendering community involvement and enthusiasm. In 1986 the Lagoon Committee prepared a traveling slide show that visited communities up and down the floodplain to foster support for restoring the San Dieguito River floodplain both east and west of the freeway. This slide show proved invaluable in making people aware of the importance of restoring the lagoon. In May 1987, at the urging of property owners and the State Department of Commerce, the California Coastal Conservancy held a public meeting to discuss amending the Enhancement Program to allow commercial development of floodplain property near the lagoon. More than 600 people attended this meeting to voice their strong support for the restoration of the lagoon and opposition to the development plans. In 1989 Del Mar endorsed a concept plan shepherded by the Lagoon Committee for extending the restoration east of I-5 to El Camino Real with trails along the north side of the river and a nature center. This support helped lead to the eventual purchase of the property for lagoon restoration in 1991.
Great Egret enjoying the San Dieguito Lagoon.
Photo Stu Smith
In 1991, the Coastal Commission selected the San Dieguito Lagoon as the site for a 150-acre mitigation project by Southern California Edison. The JPA, wildlife agencies, restoration experts, community groups including the Lagoon Committee, The San Dieguito River Valley Land Conservancy and Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, and homeowners along the river valley worked with Southern California Edison (SCE) to develop the restoration plan, aimed at enhancing the biological, aesthetic and recreational values of this resource.
The Coastal Commission’s goal was to create a vibrant ecosystem in the lagoon that would become a fish nursery, replacing fish population losses incurred at the water intake valves of SCE’s San Onofre Nuclear power plant. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process started in 1998. Certification of the EIR was an arduous process, featuring lawsuits from beach residents who feared loss of beach sand once the river mouth was permanently opened. Strong beach sand monitoring programs were added to complement the biological and water-quality monitoring imposed by the Coastal Commission in the Development Permit procedures. The Wetlands Restoration plan also traveled through permitting processes in Del Mar and San Diego. Guiding, encouraging and advocating for the Restoration became a driving goal for SCE’s David Kay, the River Park JPA’s Dick Bobertz and Susan Carter and San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price with support from members of the Lagoon Committee. Groundbreaking ceremonies in November 2005 were cause for heartfelt celebration and a communal sigh of relief.
Dedication of San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration, Nov 7, 2011. At the podium: Jacqueline Winterer. Directly behind her: Pamela Slater-Price and Bill Michalsky. Photo Stu Smith
The Marathon construction team became swept up in zeal for this project and their conviction shows. A vintage World War II airstrip was transformed into a thriving mega pond, surging with ocean water and fresh river water making a perfect brackish mix that now is the safe haven for a vigorous expanding ecosystem. The project was completed in September with final dredging of the river mouth and deepening of the river channel leading into the lagoon. Millions of young fish now thrive amidst a proper balance of invertebrates, appropriate plant communities, land animals and upwards of 200 different species of birds.
In conjunction with the inspired leadership of Jacqueline Winterer, of the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, the Lagoon Committee became part of the team that saved the Grand Avenue Bridge, which once offered access to that WWII airstrip. Rather than demolishing the entire bridge, SCE/Marathon Construction followed the Friends’ conversion plans, giving us the Grand Avenue Bridge Overlook, now a favorite spot for bird-, fish-, crab- and cloud-watching.
November 7, 2011 marked the dedication of the completed San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration held along the Coast-to-Crest Trail segment at the foot of San Andres Dr near Albertson’s shopping center. The first hour of the two-hour gathering centered on members of the communities that had contributed, throughout four decades, to the San Dieguito Lagoon’s restoration. Conversations bloomed, memories resurfaced. Spirits soared, along with the hawks and terns. Smiles sparkled as bright as the sun-glints off the tidal waters flowing into the river. Dreams had come into fruition.