Del Mar restoration brings nutrients, wildlife

By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

Contractors removed an earthen dam on Sept. 29 near Del Mar Dog Beach, allowing tidal flows to make contact with the San Dieguito wetlands for the first time in many decades.

A number of community leaders and environmental experts joined together to see the ocean and river connect, bringing nutrients and fish to the wetlands and attracting birds. This almost final step in construction of the 150-acre preserve is part of a project to mitigate impacts caused by San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations 2 and 3. Many fish are killed due to the fact that the plant uses the ocean as a cooling mechanism.

Jacqueline Winrerer, president of Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, said she has been in Del Mar for 46 years and remembers the original mitigation around 1970.

“This is so terrific,” she said. “It’s many years in the making, and it’s not entirely the final element of the restoration, but it’s a more special one.”

Project Manager David Kay, of Southern California Edison, said he has dedicated 15 years to this project, which was agreed upon in 1991.

“You want to get it right the first time,” he said of the many years put into this project. “You have to do a number of studies and engineering to know it will work as designed.”

A five-month dredging project began in mid-February to remove 80,000 cubic yards of sand from the San Dieguito River channel to allow for better exchange of water from the ocean and the newly restored ecosystem. During the weeks leading up to the dam removal, excavating crews and equipment visible from Highway 101 have been working to place 50,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach for replenishment.

The beach will have to be dredged again within a few years, said Kay, and the trench will also naturally shift.

Jointly funded by San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the project totaled about $9 million over the past 20 years.

As a giant backhoe removed the final pieces of the sandy dam around sunset, onlookers reveled as the tide flowed into the wetlands, some snapping monumental photos and others scoping out the first fish making their way into the wetlands.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” said Del Mar City Councilwoman Lee Haydu, who said she’s lived near the lagoon since the early 1980s and sees it every day. “It’s so different now that they’ve started the restoration. The lagoon is so much healthier.”