Restoring coastal ecosystems

A home to sensitive plants, as well as resident and migratory wildlife, the San Elijo Lagoon is a valuable coastal wetland resource for the San Diego region. Due to infrastructure that traverses the lagoon, as well as encroachment and pollution from development in the watershed, the ecological function of the lagoon had been compromised through a reduced tidal prism and degraded water quality.

This necessitated a major restoration project—one in which AECOM played a key part.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the San Elijo Conservancy (now Nature Collective) enlisted the AECOM team to support the project by developing alternatives to enhance and restore the biological and hydrologic functions of the lagoon. We developed three alternatives reflecting a balance of habitat types and considering regional historic losses while minimizing impacts to public access and recreation. The restoration alternatives were also evaluated for their resilience against sea level rise.

Engaging the public, winning awards

Because the restoration occurred adjacent to a highly developed area with intensive public recreation use, the project has been high profile and has had a high level of public engagement. The complexity of balancing these considerations, as well as the dynamic nature of the lagoon system, required AECOM’s close cooperation within the project’s diverse stakeholder group—including the public, non-profit organizations, regulatory and wildlife agencies, and the various owners and managers within the lagoon.

AECOM has served as an active team member since 2006, providing critical consistency to the project and client. The restoration was implemented in 2021 but our efforts continue into 2023 and beyond with post-construction monitoring and adaptive management. The work has since garnered acclaim as part of the North Coast Corridor Program which was named Project of the Year by the APWA San Diego Section and recognized at the Annual ASCE Awards Ceremony.