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GUEST COLUMNIST: The Future of the Buena Vista Lagoon Habitat

Buena Vista Lagoon

By Joan Herskowitz.

In 1968, the 220-acre Buena Vista Lagoon, located in the cities of Oceanside and Carlsbad, was designated the first ecological reserve in the state. However, over time the lagoon has suffered increasing sedimentation, declining water quality, and diminished biological productivity. This is the result of urbanization, construction of bridges across the lagoon, but most importantly, the installation by beachfront homeowners of a weir (dam) at the privately owned mouth of the lagoon.

All these forces have closed the lagoon’s connection to the ocean, impounding rain and stream water, creating a freshwater lagoon. Now dense cattail thickets and proliferating mosquitoes increasingly define the the lagoon which in time is expected to fill-in and disappear. Therefore, there is agreement that the lagoon needs enhancement to remain a wetland, but there is disagreement about how to improve it.

Freshwater or Saltwater?

After about 20 years of study by state agencies, SANDAG prepared an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for lagoon enhancement that analyzes several alternatives, including a Freshwater Alternative that would keep the weir but deepen the lagoon, and a Saltwater Alternative that would remove the weir to open the lagoon to ocean tides, creating a salt marsh/estuarine wildlife habitat. The Final EIR concludes that the preferred alternative is the Saltwater Alternative because it best meets the project objectives to enhance the biological and hydrological functions and recreational values of the lagoon.

Some of the homeowners around the lagoon want to retain the weir in place and keep the freshwater lagoon environment. The Buena Vista Audubon Society believes the Saltwater Alternative is the environmentally superior alternative and that returning the lagoon to its historic saltwater condition is the best approach to lagoon enhancement. As there have been extensive historical losses of salt marsh and estuarine habitat in San Diego County, this plan is a unique opportunity to increase this habitat type, to serve as a nursery for ocean fish, and to provide habitat for migratory shorebirds on the Pacific Flyway, particularly endangered species.

The Saltwater Alternative will also increase water circulation, improve water quality, and reduce mosquito populations that thrive in the stagnant water and thick cattails. This is an important public health issue as mosquitoes are potential vectors of viral diseases such as West Nile, Zika, and others. Finally, road mitigation funds to implement the plan will likely be available only for the Saltwater Alternative, and this alternative is supported by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, California Coastal Commission, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as a number of local environmental and community organizations.

Decision Coming Soon

The decision on which alternative will be supported by SANDAG is expected to be made by a vote of the SANDAG Board of Directors in May 2019. The Board is comprised of representatives from each of the 18 cities in the County, as well as County representatives. If you would like to contact your SANDAG representative prior to the meeting to indicate support for your preferred alternative, you can find their name at:

Joan Herskowitz is a retired biologist and is on the Board of Directors of the Buena Vista Audubon Society

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