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Volunteers Offer Birds Eye View at South Lake Reservoir

For decades, it was a source of drinking water for the San Marcos area. Today, the South Lake Reservoir has new life as a local wildlife habitat.

South Lake was built with an earthen dam and provided drinking water to the Lake San Marcos area, most of downtown San Marcos, and the Coronado Hills area. Updates to potable water treatment had detrimental effects on the lake ecology, so the Vallecitos Water District stopped using the lake as a drinking water source in 1984, although it remained an emergency water supply for another decade.

Naturalists Paige DeCino (left) and Karen Merrill survey South Lake Reservoir. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Volunteers Offer Birds Eye View at South Lake Reservoir

For decades, it was a source of drinking water for the San Marcos area. Today, the South Lake Reservoir has new life as a local wildlife habitat.

South Lake was built with an earthen dam and provided drinking water to the Lake San Marcos area, most of downtown San Marcos, and the Coronado Hills area. Updates to potable water treatment had detrimental effects on the lake ecology, so the Vallecitos Water District stopped using the lake as a drinking water source in 1984, although it remained an emergency water supply for another decade.

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Now, South Lake provides a thriving ecosystem within and around the facility. The lake is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life. Waterfowl such as coots, gallinules, grebes, various species of ducks, and cormorants frequent the lake throughout the year. The property is filled with quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes.

Volunteers help identify habitat and wildlife at South Lake

Vallecitos Water District staff recently surveyed the area to look for animal tracks and other signs of wildlife, and to catalog plant and animal species.

Certified California naturalists Paige DeCino and Karen Merrill from Preserve Calavera assisted Vallecitos public information representative Alicia Yerman, who is also a certified naturalist. The team spent three days exploring the lake and the 1.4-mile trail. Merrill and DeCino host the volunteer UC Naturalist certification program. The program is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Two wildlife cameras were set up at South Lake to capture wildlife activity over a two-week period. Lisa Urabe, a University of California trained Master Gardener and Vallecitos public information representative, asked the Buena Vista Audubon Society to conduct a bird survey. The BVAS volunteers identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species.

BVAS volunteers were enthusiastic about surveying the birds in an area set aside as wildlife habitat. With increased habitat fragmentation, BVAS hopes the area will remain primarily an area for wildlife.

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paig DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species seen. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paige DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showing some of species. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“What you have at South Lake is a gem of the healthy functioning habitat— flora, fauna, and it is just a complete picture of what we hope our open spaces and natural lands to be,” said Karen Merrill. “It is something we should treasure now and into the future. It is one of a kind here on coastal San Diego County.”

Vallecitos employees take pride in the lake and its surrounding ecosystem and strive to keep the habitat intact for generations to come.

Vallecitos Water District staff including maintenance operator Marcelino Sanchez help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District staff, including water distribution operator Marcelino Sanchez, help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake

In addition to its value as local wildlife habitat, South Lake is available for fire suppression. Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake during wildfire events. The lake may be used as part of the City of San Marcos’ park system in the future.

Water quality within South Lake is monitored daily by water distribution operators, and the condition of the dam’s integrity is recorded weekly. Recently, an environmentally-sound ultrasonic technology made by LG Sonic was placed on the lake to reduce algae blooms and to improve water quality.

SDG&E Releases Sustainability Strategy with Green-and Justice-Oriented Goals

San Diego Gas & Electric released a sustainability strategy Thursday with climate change-conscious goals in the areas of environmental stewardship, clean transportation, grid modernization, community engagement and company operations.

Recycled water-Olivenhain Municipal Water District-APWA-collaboration

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Recycled Water Expansion Project is Project of the Year

Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Recycled Water Pipeline Extension 153A was recognized September 10 as a 2020 Project of the Year by the San Diego and Imperial County Chapter of the American Public Works Association at its virtual awards event.

The pipeline extension connected the Surf Cup Sports youth soccer fields in San Diego to OMWD’s recycled water distribution system. By allowing Surf Cup to convert the irrigation of 55 acres of grass fields to recycled water, OMWD has reduced potable water demands for irrigation by up to 100 million gallons per year.

“OMWD’s board is honored to receive this award for a collaborative project, which expanded the use of recycled water while protecting the environment,” said OMWD Board Treasurer Larry Watt. “Additionally, state grant funding helped pay for the project, reducing costs for our ratepayers.”

Project of the Year will save up to 100 million gallons of potable water annually

The project involved the installation of 1,600 feet of 8-inch PVC pipeline that required specialized drilling and interagency cooperation to be completed. The pipeline needed to cross the San Dieguito River, causing design, permitting, and construction obstacles. OMWD’s design team used horizontal directional drilling to install the pipeline more than sixty feet below the river bottom.

Horizontal directional drilling reduces not only surface area damage, but also environmental impacts from construction site dust, making it less impactful to nearby habitat and communities than traditional excavation work.

Interagency cooperation benefits wildlife

OMWD worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on a streambed alteration agreement to ensure the protection of fish and wildlife habitat. OMWD also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect nesting birds such as the federally listed clapper rail and barn owl.

By OMWD taking proactive steps, such as daily biological sweeps of the project and inspections of the trenchless process, there was no adverse impact to habitat or species in the project area.

City of San Diego, Santa Fe Irrigation District collaboration with OMWD

Interagency cooperation was also required for the project. The property is served water by Santa Fe Irrigation District and owned by the City of San Diego. While SFID did not have nearby recycled water infrastructure, it wanted to provide Surf Cup fields with a drought-resilient water supply. The OMWD pipeline project meets that need.  The San Diego City Council approved a permanent utility easement allowing crews to access the property.

Grant funds support regional water management efforts

California’s Department of Water Resources awarded $202,300 for the project in Proposition 84 funding, which is administered by water wholesaler San Diego County Water Authority through the Integrated Regional Water Management program. The San Diego IRWM Program supports collaborative water management to increase regional self-reliance throughout California.

APWA is a professional association of public works agencies, private companies, and individuals dedicated to promoting public awareness through education, advocacy, and the exchange of knowledge. The APWA San Diego and Imperial County chapter annually recognizes the best public works projects and professionals in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The Project of the Year award is also intended to highlight the collaboration and cooperation between public and private agencies, contractors, and consultants, to complete public works projects.

New Seawater Intake Pumps-Carlsbad Desalination Plant-fish-friendly

New Fish-Friendly Seawater Intake Pumps at Carlsbad Desalination Plant

New fish-friendly seawater intake pumps recently commissioned  at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant are among the most environmentally advanced intake pumps in the world.

The three intake pumps, manufactured by Indar, are part of a broader effort to ensure the long-term health of the marine environment near the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which sits on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

New intake pumps and state-of-the-art technology

Installation of the new intake pumps is part of a phased program to replace the existing seawater intake and discharge facilities with state-of-the-art technology to protect marine life that wasn’t available when the plant was operating with source water from the Encina Power Station. The closure of the power station in December 2018 led to temporary intake-discharge operations until the new intake pumps came online. The next steps include adding new intake screens, designed to prevent any sea-life larger than 1 millimeter (thicker than a credit card) from entering the plant.

Essential work during COVID-19 pandemic

The work to complete the construction and commissioning of the new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps was part of the essential work allowed under California guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The contractor, KiewitShea Joint Venture, worked in accordance with guidelines adopted by the State Building and Construction Trades Council and approved by Governor Gavin Newsom for essential construction. The contractor worked uninterrupted to complete the project per the June 30, 2020, deadline set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board without any health or safety violations.

The eventual transition of the desal plant to operate independent of the power plant was anticipated in the 2012 Water Purchase Agreement between Poseidon Water, which manages and operates the facility, and the San Diego County Water Authority, which purchases the water for use across the region. Currently, the plant provides about 10% of the region’s water supply.

New intakes part of advanced sea-life protection

New seawater intake pumps-Carlsbad Desalination Plant-Fish Friendly

The new intake screens are the final part of upgrades, which when complete in 2023, will make the Carlsbad Desalination Plant the first desalination facility in California to comply with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment, which is among the most advanced sea-life protection measures in the world. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The new intake screens are the final part of upgrades, which when complete in 2023, will make the Carlsbad Desalination Plant the first desalination facility in California to comply with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment, which is among the most advanced sea-life protection measures in the world. Poseidon Water also plans to implement the same state-of-the-art intake system at its proposed Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Plant in Orange County.

“We are excited to reach this milestone at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant that highlights our commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “This plant will continue to be a vital regional resource for decades to come, and it demonstrates that environmental enhancements can go hand-in-hand with water supply sustainability.”

Carlsbad Desalination Plant improves sustainability

The Water Authority can purchase up to 56,000 acre-feet of water from the Carlsbad plant per year – enough to serve approximately 400,000 people annually. The new pumps, combined with additional future investments, will continue to provide the San Diego region with a critically important drought-proof water supply from the Pacific Ocean.

The plant is a major component of the Water Authority’s multi-decade strategy to increase the county’s water supply reliability through supply diversification. San Diego County’s water portfolio approach has been successful in minimizing the region’s vulnerability to drought and other water supply emergencies.

“Using the most advanced technology for the seawater intake system builds on the Carlsbad Desalination Plant’s long history of protecting and preserving the coastal environment,” said Poseidon CEO Carlos Riva. “The new intake system will make this one of the most environmentally sensitive desalination plants in the world, and further enhance our region’s water reliability and climate resiliency.”

For more information, go to the plant website, carlsbaddesal.com, or to the Water Authority’s website, sdcwa.org.

Vallecitos Water District Crews Rehab Manhole, Protecting Environment

Vallecitos Water District crews sprang into action to repair and rehabilitate a manhole in danger of failing, successfully preventing a spill, which could have resulted in significant environmental damage.

Located just off Palomar Airport Road in a shared 30-foot easement with the Buena Sanitation District in Carlsbad, the manhole is part of a 30-inch outfall providing a main sewage drain for the City of San Marcos. The line feeds directly into the Encinas Wastewater Treatment plant a half-mile from the project site.

Otay Water District Gives Burrowing Owl Homes a Makeover

Burrowing owl homes maintained by the Otay Water District received a modern makeover this year. As part of its ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, the District managed construction of new nesting burrows to encourage breeding.

Ten acres of the 240-acre, District-owned San Miguel Habitat Management Area reserve and mitigation bank in eastern Chula Vista is a dedicated native grasslands area where the new artificial burrows are located. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has designated burrowing owls as a “Species of Special Concern.”

Burrowing owls get a helping hand with new habitat from the Otay Water District. Photo: Otay Water District burrowing owl homes

Otay Water District Gives Burrowing Owl Homes a Makeover

Burrowing owl homes maintained by the Otay Water District received a modern makeover this year. As part of its ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, the District managed construction of new nesting burrows to encourage breeding.

Ten acres of the 240-acre, District-owned San Miguel Habitat Management Area reserve, or HMA, and mitigation bank in eastern Chula Vista is a dedicated native grasslands area where the new artificial burrows are located. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has designated burrowing owls as a “Species of Special Concern.” They are also protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A burrowing owl in an old style burrow prior to remodeling. Photo: Otay Water Districr

A burrowing owl in an old style burrow prior to remodeling. Photo: Otay Water District

In 2019 with CDFW’s guidance, the District began planning for the retrofit of existing artificial burrows and installation of several new burrows with the most current burrow design, intending to allow for maximized breeding success. The project also enhances the value of the native grassland habitat by removing invasive plants that surround most of the artificial burrows.

“The District’s project to enhance the existing burrowing owl habitat is so important because the HMA is a protected area where the owls can safely live and breed,” said Lisa Coburn-Boyd, Otay Water District environmental compliance specialist. “Increasingly, in San Diego County, the burrowing owl population is declining because of habitat loss and fragmentation.”

Small raptors active during the day

Burrowing owls are small owls with bright yellow eyes. Unlike other owls, burrowing owls are active during the day.

Burrowing owls are also quite social. This small raptor lives among others of its own species in loose groups of up to several hundred individuals. They measure seven to 11 inches long and weigh five to nine ounces. Their diet consists of insects, small rodents, amphibian and reptile species, and carrion.

Burrowing owls will take over old mammal burrows as their homes. But in areas where small mammals aren’t present, they will also nest in shallow, underground, human-made structures.

Burrowing owl homes remodeled using new design

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Photo: Otay Water District

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Photo: Otay Water District

Originally, the District constructed 15 artificial burrows in 2003 as mitigation for impacts to burrowing owl burrows due to reservoir construction and the creation of the former Salt Creek Golf Course. The original burrows used an older design of the artificial burrows and their native grasslands habitat. Although the HMA had regular burrowing owl visitors during that time, breeding success was limited with no owl breeding pairs.

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The District retrofitted and enhanced five existing burrows and installed six new burrows. During construction of the burrows in January and February, two burrowing owls seemed interested in the construction. No breeding pairs have used the burrows this season. The District hopes they will be back to move into the newly completed burrows.

See burrowing owls on the San Diego Safari Park’s live webcam.

Cooper’s Hawk Chick Gets Special Handling near Pipeline 5 Project

A Cooper’s hawk chick and its nest received special attention after being discovered recently near a San Diego County Water Authority construction project.

Environmental surveyors spotted the nest on March 27 south of Gopher Canyon Road during the Pipeline 5 repair project in Moosa Canyon in North San Diego County.

Construction in Mission Trails Regional Park to Improve Infrastructure

When Mission Trails Regional Park reopens and visitors return, they may notice an increase in construction traffic and activities in and near the western portion of the park as the San Diego County Water Authority improves a portion of its regional water delivery system.

The Water Authority has begun work to construct a new underground reservoir and flow control facility. The facilities are part of the Mission Trails Project, a suite of projects that mostly were completed in late 2010 to improve regional water infrastructure. Completed components include the construction of a pipeline tunnel, demolition of most above-ground vent stacks in the park, and construction of a stabilized crossing at the San Diego River.

The new underground flow regulatory structure, or covered reservoir, will help regulate untreated water flows in the regional water delivery system. It will hold up to 5 million gallons of water. The reservoir will be covered with soil and vegetation, except for several above-ground access hatches and vents that will allow for air movement in and out of the reservoir. A new flow control facility and pipeline interconnections will also be constructed as part of this project. Pre-construction work to prepare the site has already started. The project construction is scheduled to begin in March and end in early 2022.

Construction vehicles will use Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Calle de Vida, Portobelo Drive, and Antigua Boulevard to access work areas in the park. Some trails leading to the site in the western portion of the park will be closed. For instance, the trail that begins at the intersection of Calle de Vida and Colina Dorada Drive will be closed to allow large construction vehicles and traffic to safely pass through the park. Additionally, parking at the eastern end of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard will be limited to accommodate project field offices and equipment staging.

For more information about either project, go to www.sdcwa.org/mission-trails-FRS, call the toll-free project information line at 877-682-9283, ext. 7004, or email .