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San Dieguito Lagoon Project is Half Way Complete

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Aired 4/19/09

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WEB EXTRA | Photo Slideshow
(Photography courtesy of Abigail Smigel/Southern California Edison)

If you've driven north or south on I-5 near Del Mar you can't miss it. A major construction project is underway on either side of I-5 near the Via de la Valle exit. It's not a new subdivision. It's not a new shopping mall. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce says it's a new lagoon.

The San Dieguito Lagoon restoration project stretches from the ocean at Dog Beach in Del Mar and from I-5 east to the edge of Crest Canyon. It's the largest lagoon restoration project in California. Southern California Edison is paying for the $86 million project to compensate for marine life killed by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Samir Tanious is Edison's restoration project manager.

Tanious: What we are looking at right now is we are excavating on the north side of the river and east of the freeway. We are creating a lagoon here that is basically going to have some sub-tidal as well as high tide marsh here and as well as opening here this area that you see excavated right now. At the end of this project is going to be open to the river which would allow the tide to go in and cover this whole area with coastal water.

When the lagoon is open to the ocean, the tides are expected to create new breeding grounds for fish while providing a natural spot for migratory birds and native species. Kimberly Bender is the biological monitor for the project. She's there to make sure construction doesn't disturb existing birds on the site.

Bender: Yeah, we have an osprey sitting on the post. And then over in the lagoon is a bunch of ducks, ruddy ducks, American coots, stuff like that.

Edison is restoring 160 acres of the 450 acre site. Sometime next year plants will begin filling up the brown expanse of dirt. Pete Tomsovic is a restoration biologist with San Diego-based RECON Environmental Inc.

Tomsovic: We are going to be growing about 350,000 plants at our native plant nursery and planting them on the site. Basically introducing or innoculating the restoration sites once they're created with a variety of different wetland type plants.

Joyce: You say innoculating, what do you mean?

Tomsovic: Introducing plants that um, you know right now we're starting with a clean slate, just a bunch of dirt and mud and innoculating would be to bring these plants in and introduce them to the site so eventually they're going to multiple and reproduce and eventually blanket this area with a wide variety of vegetation.

Jackson Underwood is an archaeologist with RECON. He and others walked the entire site to make sure no ancient artifacts or significant areas would be destroyed during construction. He says 18 Native American sites were discovered.

Underwood: And they would harvest grass seeds and fish and that sort of thing and camp here for a short while and then move on. There were no major village sites in this area. Another thing, where we're standing right here, right at the edge of the new lagoon that we're creating, this was an old airfield during World War II.

The lagoon restoration is now at the midway point. When finished, Recon restoration biologist Pete Tomsovic says the site will be a gem for people and wildlife.

Tomsovic: I think the beauty of San Diego is that we offer a wide variety of things to do outdoors and this is another recreational opportunity to see wildlife, to get out there, breath some fresh air, see some birds. And what I envision here is really a beautiful mosaic of different habitat types.

The lagoon project is expected to be completed in late 2009.

 

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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