Officials break ground on $120M San Elijo Lagoon restoration project

ENCINITAS, Calif. -- Local and state officials broke ground Wednesday on a $120 million restoration project at the San Elijo Lagoon, one of the inlets along the North County coast.

The project is part of the "Build NCC" program of the San Diego Association of Governments and Caltrans, which is bringing transportation and environmental improvements to the area -- including a widening of Interstate 5 between San Diego and Oceanside.

At the lagoon, the work will include widening, deepening and straightening the channels to improve water flow; lengthening a span under Interstate 5 to double the width of the channel; replacing a rail bridge so it will have fewer support columns; removing and burying nutrient-rich sediments; restoring mudflats; and sculpting the bottom of the lagoon floor to increase biodiversity, according to the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

"Our work will improve tidal circulation in the lagoon and enhance the lagoon's habitat in order to ensure prosperity and longevity for many of the lagoon's native plants and animals," said Doug Gibson, conservancy executive director and principal scientist.

Conservancy officials anticipate that the project will help protect the lagoon against future sea-level rise that could be brought about by climate change. The officials acknowledge that wildlife will face some short-term disruptions while the work progresses, but expect to see the wetlands thrive after the project is completed, which is estimated for early 2021.