In 1998, the big news in the River Park was the issuance of a Notice of Preparation/Intent to develop the Environmental Impact Statement/Report by the San Dieguito River Park JPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a project called the “San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project”. I’d say the title possibly sells short what actually ensued, in that wetlands were not just restored, but created – and a lot of them. Just over twenty years later, some of us practitioners may have different names and alpha-numeric jargon for different elements of the project, but most just know it as the San Dieguito Lagoon, or “where I walk my dog every day” or “where I bird watch” or “where I do yoga”. The NOP/NOI was the first formal introduction of the ambitious plan to create over 150 acres of tidal wetlands, connected permanently to the ocean via the maintained outlet at Dog Beach for the purpose of increasing coastal fish and wildlife habitat. The catalyst, and funding of course, was a CA Coastal Commission permit requirement on Southern California Edison for the mitigation of thirty years’ worth of effects on coastal marine life from the operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Edison would go on to complete construction of the project some 13 years later at a cost of nearly $80 million.
It’s interesting to look back at the outpouring of comments and concerns by the many groups, most of which are still involved today, including non-profit advocacy organizations, local/state/federal agencies, businesses, and residents. It’s also hard to imagine that as late as 1998, people were still submitting handwritten comments for the public record. This project and its associated document were somehow important enough to end up halfway across the country in the Northwestern University Library archives (where I found it for my research of this blog). If you’re interested what everyone (including maybe yourself or your organization) had to say, follow this link: https://bit.ly/2T8nhPH. But in the meantime I’ll give just a few highlights.
One business in particular, the San Dieguito Partnership, not only objected to the project, but threatened to sue – and did, along with a few others. I won’t bore you with how it all played out, other than to say the land the San Dieguito Partnership owned at the time is now owned by the JPA and is the future home of our new Coast Ranger Station – we just broke ground this week. This site is also where one of Edison’s largest created wetlands sits, in addition to the Birdwing Open Air Classroom, the Park Founders Tribute, and the Coast to Crest Trail, not to mention where some of those so concerned about the project back in 1998 now go to watch birds and walk their dogs.
Despite all the consternation from business, government entities, conservation organizations, and others, I think the majority agree it has been a great success. And even though, just as late as this week, I’ve heard one regulator and some scientists call the restoration a “disaster”, I think these two comparative photos of the lagoon from 1998 and 2018 say it all. Thank you for following our River Park turns 30 blog series, stay tuned for 1999 through present.
150 acres of new wetland, trails and habitat, 2018
Fallow weed field 1998
Birdwing Open Air Classroom, high tide