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SANDAG Considers Future Of Buena Vista Lagoon

Cattails near a walking path on the north side of the Buena Vista Lagoon on N...

Photo by Erik Anderson

Above: Cattails near a walking path on the north side of the Buena Vista Lagoon on Nov. 13, 2018.

San Diego County’s regional planners could end years of debate on Friday and settle the uncertain future of the county’s only coastal freshwater lagoon.

The Buena Vista lagoon between Oceanside and Carlsbad has been a point of friction for years, but the San Diego Association of Governments, SANDAG, appears close to a major decision.

San Diego County has several coastal lagoons. In most, tidal ocean waters blend with fresh water draining out of local watersheds creating saltwater habitat. But not the Buena Vista Lagoon.

For decades a man-made wall, known as a weir, has kept this coastal lagoon a body of fresh water. The concrete barrier keeps the lagoon water level about five feet above the average ocean level.

That closed system is causing trouble.

The watershed that supplies freshwater also carries sediment which is slowly choking the lagoon.

“Everyone has had an interest in enhancing the lagoon so that it doesn’t become a dry meadow. It doesn’t fill in completely,” said Joan Herskowitz, the conservation chair for the Buena Vista Audubon Society.

Local residents value the inland body of water, but there is a long-running dispute between homeowners and conservationists about the future. The Audubon society wants that concrete weir taken out.

“If the weir was removed and the ocean tides were allowed to move in. It would increase circulation. Improve the water quality. And also bring in ocean fish. These lagoons are nurseries for ocean fish such as halibut,” Herskowitz said.

The region has a rare chance to add to the rapidly dwindling supply of coastal salt wetlands, by reopening the lagoon to the ocean.

Cattails clog the lagoon

The ocean tides would flood the lagoon and help get rid of another vexing problem. The lagoon is being squeezed by out-of-control cattails that are taking over the shorelines and shrinking the amount of open water.

“These cattails have filled in and they are breeding sites for mosquitos and the people who live around the lagoon have been plagued by mosquitos. We get these people at our meetings getting slightly hysterical about how they can’t sit out because of the mosquitos,” Herzkowitz said.

The cattails are so tall near the Audubon Society’s Buena Vista Lagoon center that the reeds block out the view of nearby homes and much of the remaining open water.

Homeowner John Tenaglia lives in a gated community near the mouth of the lagoon. And he is quick to criticize California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials for failing to maintain the lagoon for the past few decades.

The cattails should not have been allowed to grow unchecked.

“If they had just done that periodically over many years we wouldn‘t have the incredible abundance of these cattails that populate like rabbits. So from time to time, we clean out the cattails here because we realize they grow and they’re a menace and they choke things off,” Tenaglia said.

Photo by Erik Anderson

Cattails clog the nearshore area of the Buena Vista Lagoon between Carlsbad and Oceanside on Nov. 13, 2018.

The cattails would disappear if the lagoon is opened up to the ocean and saltwater enters, according to Tenaglia, but he also contends the cattails could be controlled with regular maintenance, which has not been done.

Tenaglia is among those who have fought hard to keep this a freshwater lagoon. He doesn’t share the confidence of local planners that opening the lagoon to the ocean would even work.

“They would widen this from 50 feet to 100 feet, rip out the weir and make this a complete tidal flushing basin. And they would dewater the entire lagoon and then hope it would matriculate over a number of years, but they’ve admitted there’s no guarantee it will and they’ve got things in the environmental impact report, the EIR, that states that they’ve got to monitor this and make changes as they go along. But they admit that it’s an experiment,” Tenaglia said.

RELATED: Buena Vista Lagoon’s Future Still Unclear

SANDAG took over the stewardship of the project in 2012 after the state fish and game department couldn’t broker a plan that worked for all the stakeholders.

Regional planners have painstakingly examined the lagoon and emerged with four potential options.

They are the saltwater option, the freshwater option, a hybrid solution of some saltwater and some freshwater, or doing nothing.

“It’s a beautiful body of water. And we’re not talking about changing that, forever. So whatever we do today, our generations after that are going to have to live with that. So that’s a big deal,” Tenaglia said.

SANDAG was poised to vote on the issue last January but put off a decision to incorporate more public input in the Environmental Impact Review.

The EIR recommends moving forward with the saltwater lagoon option and the board could vote that plan up or down at their Friday meeting at 9 am.

The board may also discuss the Carlsbad City council request to put off a decision for six more months to allow the parties to work out a compromise solution. It is unclear whether that issue will be voted on.

The future of the Buena Vista Lagoon could be decided Friday, at a board meeting of the San Diego Association of Governments.

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