Next phase of San Dieguito Lagoon restoration continues

The San Dieguito Lagoon restoration project off El Camino Real.
(Karen Billing)

An often asked question from locals over the last few months has been: What is happening on El Camino Real?

The expansive earth-moving and busy construction crews are part of the next phase of the San Dieguito Lagoon restoration, expanding on the wetlands restoration that began over 10 years ago.

The $87 million restoration project has been made possible by the SANDAG TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program and federal funding. As the lead agency, SANDAG will be planting native species and creating the wetland habitat in a portion of the lagoon system referred to as “W-19”, located on El Camino Real, south of Via De La Valle.

The lagoon restoration in progress off El Camino Real.
(Karen Billing)

The project aims to convert approximately 84 acres – or 63 football fields —of degraded land and former agricultural fields into refreshed tidal wetlands. The riparian habitat along the San Dieguito River will also be enhanced and a new trail connection will be made from the Dust Devil Nature Trail linking up to the Coast to Crest Trail.

In total, the project will create 64 acres of tidal salt marsh and 15 acres of brackish wetlands, a mixture of saltwater and freshwater.

The project is about eight months into a three-and-a-half-year construction process, which will be followed by five years of plant establishment and maintenance, according to Stephen Welborn, public information officer for Caltrans.

The work ongoing now includes the excavation of salty soil that will be replaced with “suitable soils” for plant establishment. Large piles of rocks seen on site will be used to armor the riverside once the additional excavating is complete, covered with two feet of new planting material on top of it.

Several power lines in the lagoon will also be replaced in early September—SDG&E is funding the relocation of seven existing poles, moving them out of the lagoon restoration project area and into an existing SDG&E utility corridor to the east.

Crews at work on the San Dieguito Lagoon restoration.
(Karen Billing)

The new trail, beginning at the northern loop of the Dust Devil Nature Trail off El Camino Real, will look down into the new marsh from the perimeter of the reserve.

The trail, lined with rustic split-rail fencing, will eventually connect to pedestrian lanes along the new El Camino Real Bridge across the river, a project anticipated to start construction in 2023.

According to Shawna Anderson, executive director of the San Dieguito River Park JPA, the best representation of what the restoration will look like when completed is the flourishing tidal wetlands and restored salt marsh habitat done by So Cal Edison 10 years ago, just to the west of the SANDAG/Caltrans site.

“We are impressed with the progress! If you walk or ride the Coast to Crest Trail you can see the project site changing every day,” Anderson said. “Soon the power poles will be relocated out of the lagoon and wetlands will emerge as the site elevation is lowered.”

Due to the construction, the Dust Devil Nature Trail is closed to public use Monday through Friday but it is accessible on Saturdays and Sundays, allowing for a closer look at the lagoon rehab underway.

Lagoon restoration work along the San Dieguito River.
(Karen Billing)