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Environmentalists win more comprehensive study in Mission Bay wetlands debate

The Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve in the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
Land near the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve in the northeast corner of Mission Bay is being considered for additional marshland.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Local environmentalists who want hundreds of acres of new marshland added to the northeast corner of Mission Bay have a reason to be happy.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board voted unanimously Oct. 14 to approve an environmental study, the Supplemental Environmental Project, which would be in addition to ongoing studies regarding the best use of the land in the northeast part of the bay. The plan that environmentalists support is similar to one proposed by groups such as the San Diego Audubon Society and ReWild Mission Bay (a project of the San Diego Audubon Society).

The board’s vote means the SEP will be considered at the same level as the city’s proposal for redevelopment of land in northeast Mission Bay. The land at the northeast corner is considered ideal for wetlands restoration due to its proximity to the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve and Rose Creek, among other factors.

“The reason why the northeast corner of Mission Bay is the best spot [for wetlands restoration] is because there is the remnant 40 acres or so of tidal wetland marsh in Kendall-Frost and the northern wildlife preserve. So that area is what a lot of Mission Bay used to look like. It’s relatively untouched; it hasn’t been moved around the way the rest of the bay has,” said Andrew Meyer, director of conservation for the San Diego Audubon Society.

Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve map

Groups like ReWild Mission Bay would like to add 227 acres of new marshland, which they say would combat rising sea levels, protect endangered species and mitigate other effects of climate change. According to ReWild’s website, its mission is to “enhance and restore natural wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay for cleaner water, climate resiliency, carbon sequestration and greater access to public space.”

The proposal for the land from the city is more recreation-friendly. It proposes 120 acres of new wetlands and adding recreational spaces, camping areas, a nature lookout point, a restaurant and the completion of a popular bike path that loops around the bay.

According to environmentalists, sea level rise is projected to decrease the city’s proposed 120 acres of marshland to 40 acres by 2100. The proposed 227 acres would shrink to 120 by 2100, they say.

The extended study will lengthen the ongoing study by about 18 months.

Volunteers survey the wetlands of Mission Bay.
Volunteers survey the wetlands of Mission Bay during a Love Your Wetlands Day, a joint effort by the San Diego Audubon Society and UC San Diego.
(Courtesy)

Funding for the $1.25 million extended study comes from a $2.5 million fine that the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board levied against the city over a sewage spill in Tecolote Canyon in 2016. Water agencies often are allowed to devote half the fine they pay to a water-quality project in their area, and the board approved the Mission Bay wetlands study for San Diego’s fine.

The debate between those who want a more environmentally-focused proposal and those who prefer a more recreation-friendly plan has been going on the past few years, since the 76-acre De Anza Cove mobile home park closed. The nearby 46-acre Campland on the Bay RV park is nearing the end of its lease, putting the possible fate of the land up for debate.

The Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve is seen with the Campland on the Bay RV park in the background.
(Milan Kovacevic)

City officials decided in 2016 to study possible redevelopment of those two parcels and an additional 90 acres next to the mobile home park that includes a golf course, tennis courts, ballfields, picnic areas and parking lots.

Every plan under consideration would transform the Campland site into marshland because of its location next to the Kendall-Frost reserve.

The uncertainty is over how much of the mobile home park and adjacent recreational amenities also would be transformed into marshland. Campland officials hope to relocate the RV park on part of the mobile home park land.

“We’re working to reimagine De Anza Cove for decades to come for the benefit of all San Diegans,” city Planning Director Mike Hansen said. “Those efforts had been on hold due to a lack of funding, so we’re thankful the Regional Water Quality Control Board has approved this funding that includes additional technical analysis of expanded wetlands restoration. This will allow greater information to the City Council and the public so this important plan can move forward.”

Campland on the Bay is among land being eyed for possible additional marshland in the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
The 46-acre Campland on the Bay RV park is among land being eyed for possible additional marshland in the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Since 2018, environmental groups like ReWild Mission Bay have tried to make including the SEP a priority in any city proposals. The effort got a boost in January when five of the City Council’s nine members said they wanted to prioritize adding the wetlands-heavy option to the city’s ongoing environmental impact study.

Now that the water quality board has agreed, environmentalists consider it a win.

“The water board has a large mandate to improve water quality and to be thinking about water quality. They supported the ReWild project because of its opportunities to greatly restore and improve the water quality in Mission Bay,” Meyer said. “Tidal wetlands does a fantastic and free job of improving water quality through tidal action, through the plants and animals that grow there, through the settling out of all kinds of sediment and pollutants in the marsh instead of it flowing into and interacting with humans in the rest of the bay.

“We would say that water quality improvement and sea level rise resilience and this kind of access opportunity is a huge improvement over what’s there and is different than anything else in Mission Bay, so it’s worthwhile for that reason. It’s seizing the opportunity here in the northeast corner of Mission Bay to create a park for our kids and grandkids, rather than one that looks just like it has for the last 75 years.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer David Garrick contributed to this report.


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