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San Elijo Lagoon gets annual flush

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Heavy equipment operators revved their engines early April 19 to begin the process of flushing the San Elijo Lagoon inlet that extends to the Pacific at Cardiff State Beach.
Under the direction of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, the sand berm was removed. According to the organization, the berm has accumulated at the inlet as a result of storm surges and resulting migration of beach sand. The lagoon inlet is located under the Pacific Coast Highway bridge, just south of Cardiff State Beach.
“Keeping the inlet open to the ocean is critical to maintaining the health of San Elijo Lagoon,” said Doug Gibson, principal scientist and executive director of San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. “The conservancy’s efforts to maintain the inlet open to tidal flushing have substantially improved habitat quality relative to the stagnant conditions that previously developed when the inlet was closed for prolonged periods.”
In 2001, a long-term financial endowment was established to actively fund maintenance of so-called “tidal flushing.” Efforts to keep the lagoon open to tidal circulation have shown that significant ecological benefits result from increased tidal flushing, as evidenced by increased diversity and abundance of fish, improved water quality, reduced production of mosquitoes, enlarged nesting areas for California least terns, Belding’s savannah sparrows, and Western snowy plovers, and increased foraging by birds according to Gibson.
These ecological improvements have also fostered significant public enjoyment of the lagoon. “It’s been just a trickle lately,” said Josh Stevens as he walked over the rushing inlet after a morning surf session. “If it’s good for the lagoon and it doesn’t hurt the ocean then I can handle the dump trucks for a day,” he said.
Water levels in the lagoon have risen substantially in recent weeks due to the inlet blockage, prompting calls to conservancy and agency offices concerning mosquitoes and odors. These conditions result from excess nutrients in the captive lagoon water, resulting in excessive plant growth and ultimately decomposition Gibson said.
The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is a nonprofit formed in 1987 with the mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and its watershed. The reserve is one of the few remaining coastal wetlands and home to more than 700 animal and plant species.