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Crest Canyon Closed: What’s going on?
Jeff Barnouw | Amphitheatre Drive

Restoration work on the Crest Canyon cave-in, showing the access road leading from the Lagoon, with
Oribia Road on the right.
Drone photo courtesy City of San Diego.

The trails of Crest Canyon are closed to the public, and not only because of COVID-19. There is constant activity in the Canyon every day of the week from 7 am to 5 pm, which also necessitates closure. Work began December 24, 2019 on the City of San Diego’s Crest Canyon Emergency Storm Drain Project. A year ago the Sandpiper (see March 2019 “Sinking in the Rain”) reported on the dramatic collapse of the surface area over a hollowed out landfill restoration from 1983, salty soil that had been dredged up from the adjacent lagoon area. Two seasons of heavy rain and run-off from Del Mar Heights construction in 1979 and 1980 had scoured the Canyon and left a hole at least 35-feet in diameter and 20 feet deep, and it was this hole, emptied of its fill over the years through the broken drainage, that reappeared in the wake of last year’s Valentines Day downpour.

With the recent rains there has been increasing deterioration of the old corrugated metal pipe storm drain and further erosion that continues to cause sediment discharge into the San Dieguito Lagoon. The contractor, Burtech Pipeline, started by developing a temporary access road along the existing trail and laying bare the failed storm drain pipe. The access road reaches to the head of the drainage area a long way up the canyon from the cave-in, perhaps 100 yards south of the stairway at Durango and Lozana on the east side and the Crest Road water tower on the west. The entire length of existing pipe had to be examined for structural integrity. More cave-ins might have been waiting to happen. A temporary drainage system was created to deal with current rain and decrease the rate of soil erosion.

Approximately 1,100 feet of corrugated metal pipe was installed to address the immediate emergency. Crews are now focusing on installing approximately 4000 linear feet of reinforced concrete pipe (RCP) as a permanent replacement. Alec Phillipp of the City of San Diego Information Office, who responded quickly to our request for an update, writes, “the RCP has been ordered and we expect it to arrive by late April. Crews will start installing it once it arrives.” Vegetation and trail reestablishment will be begun once the RCP installation is complete, possibly in January 2021. To receive updates on the Storm Drain Project e-mail engineering@sandiego.gov or call 619 533-4207.

Creation of the temporary access road resulted in collateral damage to another project, one of habitat enhancement, which had just been launched in the Canyon. In January Jim Smith and Karen Searcy working with the Canyonlands subgroup Friends of Crest Canyon, led by Sami Collins (readers know of the Friends and Jim and Sami from “Clean Crest Crew” Sandpiper February 2018), with Jonathan Appelbaum of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, and supported by City of San Diego Park and Recreation with Ed Christensen, had managed the planting of an area about 6000 square feet, between the eastern stairway and the water tower, involving some 50 volunteers, many of them Girl Scouts, putting 200 plants in the earth, mainly coastal sage scrub native species including California sagebrush, California buckwheat, broom baccharia, saltbush, black sage, lemonade berry, and in much smaller numbers toyon, chaparral yucca, and Torrey pine. These will grow in the heavily saline soil. Jim Smith reported, “the biggest effort was hauling 10 cubic yards of Torrey Pine wood chips 500 feet and down many flights of stairs. At one point 30 hale volunteers with 5 gallon buckets formed an ant line of chips.”

Some of the 50 volunteers get ready to plant, January 2020.
Photo Jim Smith.

On the last day of February. with bird nesting season due to begin the following day, the temporary access road was extended through the newly planted area, following the course of the drainage system. An emergency crew of volunteers from Friends of Crest Canyon was able to dig up and save 60 plants while 40 were plowed under. The remaining 100 were not in the path of destruction, including two Torrey pines.

Ed Christensen told me that in the completion of the Storm Drain replacement particular attention will be paid to compacting the soil around the pipes, as was not adequately done in 1983, and that on top of the present sandy soil the holes and trenches will be filled in with earth more fitting for the Canyon chaparral.



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