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Work begins in phase II of San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration project

Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
A sign restricting access to the San Dieguito Lagoon and River Valley next to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, April 13, 2021.

Work began this week on Phase II of the San Dieguito Lagoon Wetland Restoration project intended to create a new trail connection, expand river habitat and convert former agricultural fields to tidal wetlands, it was announced Wednesday.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the California Department of Transportation and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority began the work on the wetlands, south of Via De La Valle and east of Interstate 5.

The plans include connecting the Dust Devil Nature Trail to the Coast to Crest Trail, expanding the riparian habitat along the San Dieguito River, and converting 84 acres of degraded land into wetlands.


In total, 64 acres of tidal salt marsh, 15 acres of brackish wetlands - - a mixture of saltwater and freshwater — and an additional five acres of riparian habitat will be restored through this project.

"This project is a great example of government agencies recognizing the interconnected nature of ecosystems," SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. "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," she added. "This region has stunning biodiversity and we are enhancing it for future generations."

Phase II is planned to cost $87 million and is made possible by the SANDAG TransNet Environmental Mitigation Program and federal funding.

According to SANDAG, 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 — 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 through mid-February 2022.

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Nearby residents 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. to 6 p.m. January to March and October to December. From April to September, the trail will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 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.