San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration enters home stretch

By Kelly Sarber, San Dieguito Project


The San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project has entered its final phase of construction with the dredging of 85,000 cubic yards of sand currently clogging the San Dieguito River channel. The five-month dredging project began on Feb. 15 and will remove sand that has built up over the decades in the river to allow for better exchange of water from the ocean to the new nature preserve. Clearing the channel of sand on the east and west sides of Jimmy Durante Bridge will allow an estimated 80 million gallons of water to reach the newly created wetlands during daily tides to make the ecosystem naturally sustainable to support increasing fish and birds populations, and native vegetation.

“Even before we began this final phase of construction, the vision behind this unprecedented coastal restoration project was a reality,” said David Kay, Southern California Edison manager of environmental projects. “The site has already become a nursery for more marine life than the relatively small number of fish impacted by the ocean water cooling system of our San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.”

The specialized dredge operating in the sensitive wetlands east of Jimmy Durante Bridge is ideal from an environmental standpoint, because it is small, has minimum emissions and makes very little noise. The dredge pumps sand to a stockpile area where it is being dried for placement on five California least tern nesting sites and other upland areas on the east side of I-5. Once the upland areas have received the sand from the river bottom, top soil will be placed and planted with native habitat.

Excavators and front end loaders will be used to remove the sand in the channel to the west of Jimmy Durant Bridge. The same process of sand removal and placement has been used in past years to open the river mouth. The sand in this area is considered high quality beach sand and will be used to replenish Del Mar beaches.

“The project has become a real natural asset for San Diego and is a living laboratory for studying how nature can adopt man made eco-systems,” said Pamela Fair, vice president, environmental, safety & support services. “The on-going research is helping our scientists understand how fish and birds colonize and re-populate previously disturbed areas to benefit other restoration projects around the country.”

Minimizing interference with any migratory and endangered bird nesting activity is one of the most important operational components to the dredge operation. Project biologists will work cooperatively with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game to monitor the site during construction for any nesting activities in order to protect birds. The park’s master plan provides for public access through increased trail systems and wetlands education once the construction portion of the nature preserve is completed. Additional information about the San Dieguito Wetland Restoration Project is available at




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