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Grading the Lagoon
Ann Gardner | Via Latina


From page 6 of the Overview of the Wetlands Workshop


For those interested mostly in the bird and fish counts the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration Project, the largest mitigation project in the country, passed its first annual public review here on May 7 with flying colors. The few lower marks in vegetation and macro invertebrates caused one audience member to ask “If the fish and birds are happy maybe you are over-weighting the other factors.” The UCSB scientists, under contract with the California Coastal Commission (CCC) to meticulously monitor results for mitigation credits, laughed and explained theirs was a very exact exam dictated by the Commission, and anyway those invertebrates were very important to the overall health of the lagoon.

The few lower marks caused the Project to just miss earning a mitigation credit for 2012, and Southern California Edison (SCE) is already weighing options to get them up. Standards were established by the Coastal Commission to ensure that the restoration project succeeded in offsetting harm to fish populations caused by allowing SCE to operate Units 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The project is required to meet five design standards, and 15 performance standards culled from three (out of 46 considered) natural wetland sites selected for comparison: Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Tijuana Estuary and Magu Lagoon (south of Ventura).

Design standards include: specific percentages of habitat (salt marsh, mud flats and intertidal), uninterrupted tidal flushing, topography (no excessive erosion or sedimentation), exotics (shall not impair the lagoon) and plant reproduction. The 15 performance standards selected for comparison with the three natural wetlands include water quality, the number of bird and fish species, vegetation and food chain support. The restored San Dieguito Lagoon met all five design standards and kept up with or, in the number of bird species, beat out the three comparison sites but scored enough less in vegetation, for instance, to miss a mitigation credit for 2012. A credit is required for every year units 2 and 3 cooling systems are in operation. The units began operation in 1983; that means over 30 years of credit to go!

An eclectic mix of eighty people showed up for this first annual review: local scientists and environmentalists interested in restoration and environmental monitoring, elected officials as well as the Del Mar Lagoon Committee, Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley and San Dieguito River Park staff. Audience participation was high and there were plenty of enthusiastic follow up questions. After all, in addition to being the largest mitigation project in the country the Project, uniquely, also includes funding for scientific oversight and monitoring that is independent of SCE, the applicant.

In case you were wondering, 110 bird and 21 fish species were counted in 2012. The bird number is considered modest when compared with monthly Audubon bird counts in the same area which, since 2010, have topped at 216 different species. As the monitoring team commented, “you couldn’t have picked a better spot for birds!”

View the terrific pdfs prepared by the UCSB scientists for the 2012 review workshop here:



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