Contractors restoring the San Dieguito Wetlands opened the river inlet for the last time Sept. 29, reconnecting the lagoon to the ocean and marking the near completion of a 15-year project.
About 100 people, including residents, city officials, project representatives and passers-by, gathered at 5 p.m. on Dog Beach to watch as heavy equipment cleared sand from a dam that has isolated the wetlands from the ocean for the past three weeks.
“This is the last time we’ll do this,” Kelly Sarber, media director for the project, said. “Then we turn it over to Mother Nature.”
The $86 million restoration project is funded and managed by Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to offset negative impacts to ocean ecosystems caused by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Since construction began in fall 2006, the inlet has been cleared at least twice because of the natural build up of sand. This time workers constructed the barrier so the restoration team could move the river channel 150 feet north.
The clearing will allow about 80 million gallons of water to fill the river during each high tide, Sarber said. Approximately 40,000 cubic yards of sand have been used for beach replenishment in Del Mar.
As part of this final phase of the project, which ultimately will restore more than 150 acres of natural preserve in the San Dieguito River Valley, rock will be added to armor the riverbank east of Jimmy Durante Bridge.
The project team must return indefinitely to dredge a sand trap built under water to ensure the inlet doesn’t clog.
“We’ll continue to monitor the hole in perpetuity and clear it as it fills with sand,” said David Kay, Southern California Edison manager of environmental projects. “That could happen anywhere from 18 months to three years. It depends on nature.”