On January 5, 2022, SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) and Caltrans (California Department of Transportation)—in partnership with JPA (San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority)—began work on Phase II of the San Dieguito Lagoon Wetland Restoration south of Via De La Valle and east of I-5.
This lagoon restoration will create a new trail connection from the Dust Devil Nature Trail to the Coast to Crest Trail, enhance and expand riparian habitat along the San Dieguito River, and convert approximately 84 acres of former agricultural fields and other degraded land into tidal wetlands, which are an integral part of biodiversity in our region.
“This project is a great example of government agencies recognizing the interconnected nature of ecosystems,” said SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
“It makes sense to improve transportation networks, including trails and walking paths, while also restoring habitat and improving our natural environment. We can have better transportation systems and healthier habitat at the same time. This region has stunning biodiversity and we are enhancing it for future generations,” she added.
In total, 64 acres of tidal salt marsh, 15 acres of brackish wetlands, which are a mixture of saltwater and freshwater, and an additional five acres of riparian habitat will be restored through this project.
“The San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration shows how our state and local agencies can come together to take advantage of once in a lifetime regional transportation projects to enhance adjacent natural resources and provide new access to outdoor activities,” said Gustavo Dallarda, Director, Caltrans District 11.
SANDAG and Caltrans are partnering with the San Dieguito River Park JPA on the restoration to mitigate I-5 Carpool/HOV Lanes and LOSSAN Double Track improvements as part of the North Coast Corridor Program (NCC). Part of the restoration project will also be used as mitigation for the City of San Diego’s El Camino Real Bridge Replacement Project.
With federal funding now secured, restoration efforts in the San Dieguito Lagoon basin are beginning with the removal of existing non-native vegetation, some invasive species, and accumulated soils to allow tidal flow and planting of new wetland plant species, which is known as clearing and grubbing. The excavated soil will be placed on a nearby slope, south of the lagoon, and replanted as coastal sage scrub. New wetland and native upland vegetation will be planted once the excavation is complete. Clearing and grubbing will occur intermittently from January 2022 to mid-February 2022.
“The restoration of the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands is a landmark project that will transform the region,” said San Diego Council District 1 Councilmember and JPA Board member, Joe LaCava. “I am proud of this collaboration between the City of San Diego, SANDAG, Caltrans, and San Dieguito River Park JPA. Prioritizing projects that enhance San Diego’s unique natural environment while creating long-term sustainable solutions are essential to our community.”
People nearby may hear noise, see construction crews and heavy equipment working near the lagoon, and see lighting within the central basin of the lagoon and along El Camino Real and Via De La Valle. The Dust Devil Nature Trail will be closed to public use Mondays through Fridays. The trail will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. January-March and October-December. From April-September, the trail will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. The parking lot will be closed while the Dust Devil Nature Trail is closed and the Dust Devil Nature Trail is subject to closure throughout the duration of construction.
Once completed, the creation of a new trail paralleling El Camino Real will improve connectivity to the Dust Devil Nature Trail along the southern edge of the project area and extend north near the El Camino Real bridge for future connection to the Coast to Crest Trail.
The SANDAG TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program is a driving force in habitat conservation efforts in San Diego County. The SANDAG program allocates TransNet to protect, preserve, and restore native habitats as offsets to impacts caused by the construction of regional and local transportation projects. As part of the $850-million countywide program, more than $250 million will be invested in the North Coast Corridor to preserve and enhance sensitive coastal habitat and improve coastal access.
A total of $322 million in TransNet funding, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax administered by SANDAG, is allocated to the North Coast Corridor Program. SANDAG leverages these funds with state and federal resources to improve the region’s transportation infrastructure. For more information on TransNet funded projects, visit KeepSanDiegoMoving.com/TransNet.
SANDAG, Caltrans, and the San Dieguito River Park JPA are overseeing the San Dieguito Lagoon Wetland Restoration Phase II, which expands and complements a previous lagoon restoration project completed by Southern California Edison in 2012. Phase II will cost $87 million and is made possible by the SANDAG TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program and federal funding.
About San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority:
The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) is the agency responsible for creating a natural open space park in the San Dieguito River Valley. The open space park extends 55 miles from the ocean at Del Mar to Volcan Mountain, just north of Julian.
The San Dieguito River Park JPA was formed as a separate public entity in 1989 by the County of San Diego and the cities of Del Mar, Escondido, Poway, San Diego, and Solana Beach. It was empowered to acquire, plan, design, improve, operate, and maintain the San Dieguito River Park. The JPA oversees habitat restoration and preservation throughout the SDRP and an important part of that is the restoration of the San Dieguito Lagoon.
Over 600 acres of the lagoon and surrounding area has been acquired and protected by the JPA and its conservation partners. Recreational opportunities surround the San Dieguito Lagoon including several miles of the regional Coast to Crest Trail and other recreational trails and amenities, providing the public with an opportunity to explore and learn about the importance of wetlands and lagoon ecosystems.
About North Coast Corridor:
The Caltrans and SANDAG North Coast Corridor (NCC) Program is a $6 billion, 40-year balanced set of transportation, environmental, and coastal access projects to improve the quality of life for residents, create a stronger local and regional economy for the future, and enhance the coastal environment.
Caltrans District 11 serves one of the most geographically and culturally diverse areas in the country and includes San Diego and Imperial counties. It spans the entire California-Mexico Border from the Pacific coast to Arizona and reaches north from the international border to Orange and Riverside counties.