CARLSBAD — The Buena Vista Lagoon restoration project received a $3 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board to push forward permitting, engineering and design plans.
The project, which has been decades in the making, will remove a weir (dam) at the west end of the freshwater lagoon and create a channel connecting to the ocean to create a saltwater lagoon to combat aggressive vegetation officials have long said are choking the sustainability and viability of the lagoon.
The grant, with mayors Matt Hall and Esther Sanchez of Carlsbad and Oceanside, respectively, speaking to the board on its necessity, was allocated to the San Diego Association of Governments, which took over as project lead several years ago after nearly 20 years of a lack of movement between Carlsbad and Oceanside. The SANDAG Board of Directors approved the environmental impact report in 2020.
The lagoon straddles the border between the two cities and has long been a problem as cattails and bulrushes have a growing presence in the lagoon.
“It was really gracious of conservation board … to provide a $3 million grant,” Greer said. “The state stepped up … and we’re hoping the federal government will do the same. We’ll start working with the federal government to see if there’s funds for the restoration of this lagoon.”
The total cost of this phase of the project is estimated at $6 million and SANDAG is still sourcing the other half of the money to fund the project, he said. However, the total cost for the construction phase is estimated at $80 million, Greer said, noting SANDAG is looking to other state and federal funding sources such as the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year by Congress.
The Buena Vista Lagoon, he said, is not part of the Build North Coast Corridor program, which is an $870 million partnership between SANDAG and Caltrans upgrading roads, highways, bike connections and lagoon restorations.
Regardless, the Buena Vista Lagoon will transform from a freshwater body to a saltwater lagoon once the restoration is complete. Greer said it is important for SANDAG to get funding as the health of the lagoon continues to deteriorate.
“You dredge out the lagoon, you restore the contour so the areas can flow in and out, that’s the big project,” he said. “Eighty million dollars is a pretty reasonable estimate considering all the other lagoon restorations we’ve seen.”
The saltwater option would reinvigorate the lagoon, he said, and kill off invading vegetation, while adding more species of fish and birds, while also reducing problems with mosquitoes and flooding.
When SANDAG took over as the project lead, it had to negotiate with both cities along with two homeowner’s associations, conservation groups and the California Department of Wildlife regarding the future direction of the lagoon.
Plans call for the removal of a wooden weir and adding a 100-foot-wide inlet to allow seawater into the lagoon. Greer said the goal is to have a “bid-ready document,” as soon as possible to secure funding and to fast-track the project.
Projects are more likely to secure large-scale funding, especially from federal sources, if they are shovel-ready, he said. The construction, though, would take about three years, Greer added.
“From an ecological standpoint, that healthy saltwater coming in and out will help promote the ecological health of the lagoon,” he explained. “It basically helps oxygenate the lagoon.”