A Grand Finale
By Del Mar Mayor Don Mosier
Some big projects end with a bang, and some with a whimper. The 5 year long restoration of the San Dieguito Lagoon ended with a real bang last Thursday [September 29], when the river was reopened to the ocean. The river channel from the railway bridge west to the beach had been dredged during the proceeding 3 weeks, and only a sand dam separated the river from the ocean. A large crowd, including many of those who have worked tirelessly for the last 20 years to accomplish this goal, was there to witness the removal of the last barrier between the lagoon and the ocean. The tide was at low ebb, and the lagoon waters rushed into the ocean. By the next morning, the increase in tidal flow was obvious, and the new river channel was clearly established. An important project for Del Mar and the region is near completion, and it looks to be a great success.
The San Dieguito Lagoon was once the largest of the six San Diego coastal lagoons, and has the largest watershed. The marsh area alone is believed to have been over 600 acres, while the entire lagoon probably covered 1,000 acres. Over the years, the Lagoon was subjected to major filling activities and lost over half of its marshes. The filling activities included Highway 101, Jimmy Durante Boulevard, residential land development, the Del Mar Fairgrounds and a World War II airport. Two large dams were constructed upstream on the San Dieguito River, greatly reducing freshwater inflows. The result of all these activities was year-round closure of the lagoon mouth beginning in the 1940s.
In 1983, utilizing in part a $1.3 million grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Game created a tidal basin in a 70-acre area of the southern lagoon, the current State Marine Park. In addition, the lagoon mouth was reopened, restoring seasonal tidal influence to the coastal wetland. The ultimate restoration goal was to restore what remains of the historically significant San Dieguito Lagoon system.
That goal has now been accomplished by Southern California Edison, a condition imposed by the California Coastal Commission as mitigation for the impacts of the San Onofre Nuclear power plant. The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority Board adopted the Park Master Plan and certified the Final Environmental Impact Report in September 2000. Southern California Edison then prepared a Final Restoration Plan for submittal to the California Coastal Commission, which approved the Coastal Development Permit in October 2005. Marathon Construction was hired to do the excavation and grading. Construction began in Fall 2006, and is now nearly complete, with the only remaining work being placement of rock revetment at the curve in the San Dieguito River north of San Dieguito Drive and east of Jimmy Durante Boulevard. The Lagoon is open to the ocean and the increased tidal flow will help restore the natural marshes and wetland habitat. The sand removed to open the river mouth has been deposited on Del Mar's beaches. Congratulations to all involved in accomplishing this important project.