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Coastal Commission approves Oceanside wetlands restoration

A woman walks her dogs Friday afternoon along the Loma Alta Creek in Oceanside.(Phil Diehl)

Posted on June 28, 2023

Three tidal channels and a saltwater marsh with native plants and wildlife will be created along the Loma Alta Creek at Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside under a restoration plan approved this month by the California Coastal Commission.

“The project is purely for the benefit of protecting coastal wildlife, (and) adapting the creek system and the surrounding area to climate change, while improving water quality and recreational opportunities,” said Oceanside project manager Justin Gamble.

Oceanside has been working on the plan for more than 20 years and has held a number of community meetings to publicize the project and gather opinions. The city received an initial $400,000 grant from the State Coastal Conservancy in 2018 to begin the design.

“In June 2022, the city secured an additional $1 million from the California Ocean Protection council for project construction, bringing our current construction funds to just over $2 million, with an application for an additional $500,000 in the works,” Gamble said.

Cost estimates are now about $2.2 million, but the amount could change after the project goes out to bid next spring. Construction is likely to begin next year or no later than 2025, he said.

The wetlands restoration will cover 5.8 acres, the last of what more than a century ago was a 44-acre coastal lagoon. Over time, urbanization has gradually filled in and degraded the slough (pronounced “slew”), which is essentially a swamp or a shallow lake.

Loma Alta Creek restoration
Three tidal channels and a saltwater marsh will be created along the Loma Alta Creek at Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside.

“We are pleased the Coastal Commission has approved our coastal development permit,” Gamble said. “This marks three out of four key permit approvals the city must acquire before the project can move into the construction phase.”

Approvals from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board were secured previously. Next on the list is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Originally,the city had hoped to start construction in 2022, but the resource agencies required additional endangered species surveys and updated cost estimates because of the widespread inflation experienced nationwide after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This process takes time to ensure the city and resource agencies are on the same page with respect to project scope, conditions and monitoring,” Gamble said.

A possible second phase of the project is planned. However, that depends on whether the city acquires about 1 acre of additional property adjacent to the site.

The wetlands is just south of the La Salina Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in 1949, which is being decommissioned. The plant will be replaced by a lift station that will send wastewater to the San Luis Rey treatment plant.

Loma Alta Creek is about seven miles long and drains about 10 square miles, mostly in Oceanside, but also in parts of Vista and unincorporated San Diego County.

Much of the year, the water in the creek is stagnant. Big winter storms wash away the beach berm that grows over the summer and blocks the creek’s outlet to the ocean.

When the creek briefly opens up, it flushes months of accumulated fertilizers, contaminants, algae and trash into the surf. The pollution creates public health concerns at the beach, closing it to swimmers and surfers for days.

The restoration will excavate a deeper channel and create new homes for native species of birds, plants and even fish such as the tidewater goby, a small, coastal-dependent species in danger of extinction.

Fill material will be removed to expand the marsh and improve water quality, and a new 1,050-foot-long, decomposed granite nature trail with interpretive signs and art will be created along the northern side of the property to connect with the nearby Coastal Rail Trail.


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