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The San Dieguito River Park
18372 Sycamore Creek Rd.
Escondido, CA 92025
Phone: (858) 674-2270
Fax: (858) 674-2280



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San Dieguito Lagoon
Wetland Restoration Project

San Dieguito River Mouth at Del Mar

The San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project Team has been working diligently to complete the inlet dredging prior to the 2011 beach season (May 31).  We have made great progress, having dredged the inlet channel east of the NCTD railroad bridge, beyond Jimmy Durante Blvd and into W1 near the Grand Avenue overlook.  The final areas to be dredged are the areas west of the NCTD bridge.  All of the sand in this area, approximately 40,000 cubic yards was intended to be placed on the beach.  

As part of our Coastal Development Permit, the team initiated grunion surveys in March of this year.  Grunion have been detected in every run since that date.  The team conducted surveys during the grunion run, and several thousand grunion were detected.  We are all very excited to see the beach utilized by the grunion, unfortunately, our permits do not allow for placement of sand on the beach if grunion have run.  This meant we could not complete the final inlet dredging by May 31st.

Therefore, the team had to defer the final dredging until after the beach season.  The team will be seeking approval from the Coastal Commission and City of Del Mar to begin the work immediately after Labor Day and should be completed with the work by November.  The recently completed dredging has greatly improved the flow to the wetlands, so we are enthusiastic about finishing these final areas.

The San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project has entered its final stretch of construction. A five month dredging project began in mid-February 2011to remove 80,000 cubic yards of sand from the San Dieguito River channel to allow for better exchange of water from the ocean and the newly restored ecosystem. When the sand is dredged out, it is transported for dewatering. See the pictures below, view facing north:

‘The wet sand arrives at the settlement ponds (SA1 & 2) to be de-watered. The water will naturally seep out of the settlement ponds into the adjacent low marsh habitat (W5) and back into the river channel leaving the dry sand behind.’

Click here for latest Project Status Report

To watch a video about the San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project on the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project website, click here.

The Coastal Development Permit for the San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project was approved by the California Coastal Commission at their October 2005 meeting in San Diego. Click here to read the Coastal Commission website staff report, which provides the project conditions. Construction began in Fall 2006. The majority of the grading was completed in 2009, with the exception of the inlet excavation, which is planned for Fall 2010.

Project Background: The coastal area, which includes the San Dieguito Lagoon, is the "gateway" to the San Dieguito River Park. It has vital importance for the ecology of the region - for birds as a stop on the Pacific Flyway, as nesting and foraging areas for endangered species, and as a fish hatchery. The San Dieguito coastal area is also a significant scenic resource for residents and visitors in Solana Beach, Del Mar, and San Diego. The projects described on this page, Wetlands Restoration Plan, Non-Tidal Habitat and Public Access Plan, are therefore very high priorities for the Park. A Park Master Plan for the Coastal Area that addresses the proposed wetland restoration, non-tidal habitat restoration and public access and interpretation was adopted by the Board of Directors of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority on September 15, 2000. To view the Park Master Plan for the Coastal Area, click here - this link will take you to the Southern California Edison San Onofre mitigation page;and then scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Wetland Restoration Plan

Project Summary

The San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project is a project that will implement a tidal wetland restoration project at the San Dieguito Lagoon that will 1) restore the aquatic functions of the lagoon through permanent inlet maintenance and expansion of the tidal basin and 2) create subtidal and intertidal habitats on both the east and west sides of Interstate 5 (I-5).  This proposal is part of a Park Master Plan that has been adopted for the coastal area that would also provide for non-tidal wetland and upland habitat restoration and public access. It is anticipated that tidal restoration work would be accomplished primarily by Southern California Edison and partners (SCE), provided the restoration satisfies the conditions of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) permit for the construction and operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).   The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), and a variety of state and local agencies would be involved in the implementation of the remainder of the Park Master Plan for the overall project area. 

On September 15, 2000, the San Dieguito River Park Board of Directors certified the Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement (FEIR/S) for the San Dieguito Park Master Plan and Wetland Restoration Project, approving the "Mixed Habitat" Alternative.  Details of this alternative, and the status of the project are described below.

Click here to access the text of the FEIR/S.

Click here for access to the Final Restoration Plan.

Project Location

The project site is in the western San Dieguito River Valley within the northwestern-most portions of the City of San Diego and the City of Del Mar.  The project boundaries are generally located from El Camino Real west to the ocean and include the publicly owned properties south of Via de la Valle and north of the Carmel Valley planning area. Click here to see an aerial overview of the project boundary area. This map shows the project area boundary, and also shows a 75-acre property, known as the Boudreau property, that the San Dieguito River Park acquired in June 2004. The Boudreau property is directly adjacent to the Wetland Restoration Project, and offers an opportunity to extend the restoration. The San Dieguito River Park JPA entered into a separate agreement with the San Diego Association of Governments for design and implementation of a new tidal restoration area now called W19.


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, San Dieguito 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. Only large winter floods or bull-dozers open the mouth periodically.

Restoration of the San Dieguito coastal wetlands has been a stated goal of the Cities of Del Mar and San Diego, and the organizers of the San Dieguito River Park for almost two decades.  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.  In addition, the lagoon mouth was reopened, restoring tidal influence, at least temporarily, to the entire coastal wetland.  The ultimate restoration goal, as stated in the San Dieguito Lagoon Resource Enhancement Program (adopted in 1979) and the San Dieguito River Park Concept Plan (adopted in 1994), is to restore what remains of the historically significant San Dieguito Lagoon system.

Current efforts to design and implement a restoration plan for the San Dieguito wetlands arose from the need to provide mitigation for impacts caused by SONGS Units 2 and 3.  Following several public hearings before the CCC, it was determined that one of the Coastal Development Permit conditions associated with the operation of SONGS Units 2 and 3, the condition requiring the owners of SONGS to create or substantially restore 150 acres of tidal wetlands, would be implemented at the San Dieguito Lagoon.  As a result of this decision, SCE, as the managing owner of SONGS (other owners include San Diego Gas & Electric, the City of Riverside, and the City of Anaheim), has developed a coastal wetlands restoration plan for the San Dieguito Lagoon that is intended to satisfy this condition.  The determination as to whether or not the proposed restoration plan meets the permit condition is the sole responsibility of the CCC.

The SCE proposal to restore coastal wetlands is one element, albeit the predominant element, of a larger restoration and public access plan for all of the public open space lands within the San Dieguito River Valley that lie between El Camino Real on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.  An important component of the San Dieguito River Park Concept Plan and the City of Del Mar's San Dieguito Lagoon Resource Enhancement Program is the vision of a restored lagoon with its coastal wetlands and associated transition areas, nontidal wetlands and uplands, as well as provisions for compatible public access and interpretive/educational opportunities.

Project Description

The goal of the project is to preserve, improve, and create a variety of habitats within the project site to increase and maintain fish and wildlife and ensure the protection of endangered species.  Project objectives are that the wetland project design should ensure adequate tidal and riverine flushing and circulation to support a diversity of biological resources while maintaining the appearance of a natural wetland ecosystem.  Proposals for upland restoration complement the adjoining coastal wetland areas and provide habitats that have historically occurred in the area.  Proposed public access and use areas are sited in a manner that would not interfere with the naturally functioning ecosystem or the open space character of the western San Dieguito River Valley.

The San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project includes the following elements: 1) tidal inlet maintenance to promote regular tidal exchange through excavation of the river channel and periodic maintenance dredging (no physical structures would be constructed at the inlet or on the beach to maintain an open channel); 2) excavation of tidal and upland areas to create subtidal and intertidal habitat; 3) creation of seasonal salt marsh; 4) provision of up to 19 acres within the project area for the creation of nesting habitat for the California least tern and western snowy plover; 5) construction of berms within the river's effective flow area in order to maintain the existing sediment flows within the river and to the beach (it is important to note that these berms are not intended to serve as flood control devices); 6) dredge disposal sites within the project boundary; 7) restoration of native habitat to non-tidal areas surrounding the wetland restoration project; and 8) creation of public access trails and opportunities for interpretation.

Implementation of the wetland restoration project will require excavation and disposal of approximately 2.3 million cubic yards of dredge material.  Some of the excavated material will be used on-site, for construction of the berms and the nesting sites.  All beach quality sand that is not used to create the nesting sites will be deposited on the beach.  The remaining excavated material will be deposited at various sites within the project area. 

Click here for a slide presentation (in adobe pdf) that includes some of the scientific basis for the project.

Non-Tidal Uplands Habitat and Public Access Plan

In addition to tidal wetlands restoration, the project also includes an upland habitat restoration and public access component. The San Dieguito River Park is planning the non-tidal and associated upland areas within the project area, as well as planning for appropriate public access.

The restoration proposals are intended to convert old agricultural fields and other disturbed areas to habitats believed to have occurred in the area prior to disturbance.  Habitats to be restored include nontidal wetlands such as riparian scrub and freshwater marsh, coastal sage scrub, native grasslands, chaparral, and salt marsh transition.  The plan also recommends removal of invasive, nonnative species from the surrounding wetland areas, restoration of historic riparian corridors, provision of habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife, and creation of habitat suitable for use by migrating birds such as Canada geese.

The following nontidal habitats (including approximate acreages) are planned:

For the area east of I-5:
Southern willow scrub - 19 acres
Chaparral - 12 acres
Coastal sage scrub - 60 acres
Freshwater marsh - 0.33 acres
Native grassland - 50 acres
Salt marsh transition - 20 acres

For the area west of I-5:
Coastal sage scrub - 25 acres
Salt marsh transition - 4 acres

Consistent with the San Dieguito River Park Concept Plan, the project includes proposals for compatible passive recreational use in the area, specifically trails.  A wildlife viewing area with trails open only to pedestrians is proposed for the uplands in the southeastern portion of the project area (Mesa Loop Trail).  A parking area with up to 25 spaces would be required to accommodate this use.  A segment of the San Dieguito River Park's Coast to Crest Trail is also proposed within the project area and would be located along the project's northern boundary.  The Coast to Crest Trail would be a multi-use, non-motorized trail consisting of an 8-foot-wide, hard-surfaced trail and an adjoining 4-foot-wide dirt trail.  The hard-surfaced trail would accommodate bicycles and would be designed to meet the standards required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The probable surface would be a polymer binder mixed with decomposed granite to form a hardened but natural appearance.  The dirt path would be provided for hikers and equestrians.  The Coast to Crest Trail would extend from Jimmy Durante Blvd. on the west to El Camino Real on the east. Approximately 1200 feet of the trail beginning at the west end is a boardwalk for pedestrian use only. The Boardwalk was completed on April 7, 2007. For construction photos, click here. At Jimmy Durante Blvd., trail users could cross the bridge via the sidewalk, and continue east on the Del Mar River Path. Click here for a look at the proposed Coast to Crest Trail alignment in the coastal area.

Where the Project is Today

The San Dieguito River Park JPA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/S) for this project.  A Notice of Preparation/Notice of Intent (NOP/NOI) was issued in early June 1998 for the purpose of seeking input from various public agencies, interested organizations, and the general public regarding the scope and content of the draft EIR/S.  An Amended Notice of Preparation was issued in February 1999.  As a result of the input received in response to the NOP/NOI, a range of alternative wetland restoration designs and associated public access proposals have been developed for the project area.  Alternatives include the Mixed Habitat alternative (SCE's preferred alternative); Maximum Tidal Basin alternative, Maximum Intertidal Habitat alternative, Reduced Berm alternative and a Hybrid alternative.  The Hybrid alternative would combine the Maximum Tidal Basin proposal for the west side of I-5 and the Maximum Intertidal Habitat alternative for the east side of I-5.  These alternatives, along with a No Project alternative, have been fully evaluated to determine what, if any, impacts the restoration proposals could have on the environment.  Issues such as hydrology, water quality, land use, landform alteration/visual quality, erosion control, biological resources, cultural resources, traffic, noise, geology and soils, air quality are evaluated in the draft EIR/S.  For a CD copy of the EIR/S call (858) 674-2270. The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority Board, at their September 15, 2000 meeting, adopted the Park Master Plan for the coastal area and certified the Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement, selecting the Mixed Habitat Alternative as their preferred alternative.  Southern California Edison then prepared a Final Restoration Plan for submittal to the California Coastal Commission.   Southern California Edison hired the design firm Project Design Consultants to prepare final engineering designs and process the required permits. Engineering designs were submitted to the Cities of San Diego and Del Mar for review in Summer 2004. The California Coastal Commission approved the Coastal Development Permit on 10/12/05. Marathon Construction was hired to do the excavation and grading. Construction began in Fall 2006, and is expected to be complete in Summer 2011.

Project Litigation History

After the JPA Board adopted the EIR/EIS for the project, the JPA and Southern California Edison were sued by the Sandy Lane Homeowners Association, which claimed the project would impact their homes and the beach. In August 2003 the Appeals Court ruled that the JPA Board had not erred in certifying the EIR/EIS and adopting the project, and that all evidence supported the JPA's position that the project would not exacerbate existing conditions.



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