City clears brush from streambed

ENCINITAS — The $1 million brush clearing project currently underway in a streambed at the corner of El Camino Real and Leucadia Boulevard is not related to the upcoming El Niño, but the timing couldn’t be better, city officials said.

The project, which entails the removal of sediment and vegetation that have clogged the El Camino Real Channel, has been in the works since 2012. City officials said the buildup has made it impossible for rainfall to flow through the channel and to the ocean. Instead, it pools and, in major rain events, floods one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“It is very difficult to get this type of project done, and it takes a long time and a lot of approvals,” city public works director Glenn Pruim said. “This wasn’t tied to the upcoming El Niño event, it is something we have been working on for years.”

The city received a $500,000 vector control grant from the county in 2012, and in 2014 used half of that money to leverage a $830,000 grant from the state Office of Emergency Services.

It was a year later, however, before state, local and federal agencies signed off on the brush-clearing plans and the city was able to award a construction contract, in October.

Projects involving clearing brush from channels, river beds and other water bodies often take years to get approval, largely because it involves the displacement of habitat where animals — in some cases, endangered species — call their home.

Most of the agencies require cities to replant habitat after they have cleared the excess debris and sediment in order to re-establish the habitat.

Cities also have to time the projects as to not interfere with the nesting and breeding seasons of protected species, which can cause further delays.

Pruim said that San Diego’s mayors recently wrote a joint letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, asking to suspend some of the regulatory requirements to allow cities to perform emergency maintenance in channels such as the one in Encinitas in advance of the El Niño event.

While Brown has not acted on that request, Pruim said a number of agencies are temporarily relaxing their requirements to assist cities preparing for potentially heavy rains and flooding.

As part of the current project, Encinitas officials also received permission to do annual maintenance in the channel, which Pruim said hopefully will decrease the likelihood of having to have another major project again.

“The hope is that with annual maintenance, we won’t have to go back into the channel for a big undertaking like this for some time,” Pruim said.

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