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Years-long environmental restoration project brings new life to once-threatened habitat: 'This is what ties it all together'

"The majority of this project is creating new tidal wetlands."

"The majority of this project is creating new tidal wetlands."

Photo Credit: iStock

A San Diego County environmental restoration project recently hit a milestone with the opening of a berm that will let ocean tides flow into 64 acres of newly created salt marsh wetlands.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the endeavor, explaining that it was part of an $87 million restoration of the San Dieguito Lagoon. This is one of a series of environmental mitigation projects included in the 40-year North Coast Corridor Program, which mostly focuses on transportation improvements on Interstate 5 and the coastal rail corridor.

"This is what ties it all together," Kim Smith, senior regional planner for the San Diego Association of Governments, told the publication. "The majority of this project is creating new tidal wetlands."

The project also includes around 100 acres of upland areas where native sage scrub will be planted. The site sits on land that was once used for tomato fields and is adjacent to another restored wetland.

According to Del Mar Mayor Dave Druker, projects like this help keep the mouth of the lagoon open, which the Tribune explained helps prevent stagnation and flooding. Flood prevention and mitigation are vitally important as sea levels continue to rise because of a warming world — already, sea levels in San Diego have risen about 6 inches over the last 100 years, and they are expected to rise another 6 inches to 1.2 feet by mid-century, as reported by USA Today, citing a recent draft of the California Sea Level Rise report.

The project also helps re-create a rare habitat that had practically disappeared because of development. According to the Tribune, the newly restored wetlands can help support birds like light-footed Ridgway's rail and least Bell's vireo, two native California species listed as endangered. 

Across the world, habitat restoration projects like this are making a difference for people and wildlife. For instance, Massachusetts wildlife officials reported that a rare butterfly species appears to be expanding its range thanks to decades of habitat restoration. Likewise, a dam removal project in Colorado is having a positive impact on the river and its trout residents.

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