Encinitas council tackles flooding along coastal highway

The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 28, authorized a contract for creating the Leucadia Area Watershed Master Plan.
(Courtesy )

In Encinitas’ Leucadia communnity, one thing is as certain as the high tide at Beacon’s Beach.

Whenever it rains, Highway 101 and adjacent areas west of the elevated coastal railroad tracks become flooded, disrupting traffic flow, creating road hazards and damaging property.

For decades, city and county officials have unsuccessfully wrestled with the problem.

Now, Encinitas is taking another stab at a solution. The City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 28, authorized a contract for creating the Leucadia Area Watershed Master Plan.

Council members voted 5-0 to enter into a $431,857 agreement with Q3 Consulting and Michael Baker International to craft the plan, which aims to explain why the flooding occurs and how it can be quelled.

The study also will address inundation that could occur in a storm of the magnitude that happens about once in 100 years, though exactly when such an event will happen is unpredictable.

City Engineer Ed Wimmer said the council previously decided to pay for the master plan out of the city’s budget to accelerate its completion after a state agency rejected Encinitas’ grant application.

Wimmer said the need to complete the plan quickly is driven by the city’s Leucadia Highway 101 Streetscape construction project, the final design of which is targeted for spring 2020.

The project consists of a wholesale reconstruction of Highway 101 through Leucadia, the city’s northernmost community, to improve safety, traffic flow and appearance.

“There’s an opportunity for this (watershed) study to inform at the 100-year storm event level the streetscape project. ... This watershed master plan before you this evening will handle the big, monster 100-year storm,” Wimmer said.

The council’s approval of the watershed work included directions to the staff responding to criticisms from several residents of the proposed contract, as outlined in the staff report.

Encinitas resident John Helly, a UCSD scientist, said the proposal lacked substance on what specific tasks would be performed, among other issues.

“I am concerned about the work proposed here because it will not produce what the city needs, which is a reliable watershed plan and an underlying watershed computer model to address serious long-term stormwater problems, including coastal pollution and bluff and beach erosion-related effects,” Helly said.

Resident Russell Levan contended the study should include an analysis on the potential for reusing water collected in future flood-control structures and how the water flow could be prevented from eroding the cliffs that line the shore along the Pacific Ocean.

Heightened attention on the vulnerability of the cliffs has come in the aftermath of a bluff collapse Aug. 2 in Leucadia that resulted in three people’s deaths.

Levan, however, applauded the council for pursuing the watershed master plan.

“I am very interested in ... (getting) something moving forward because I’ve been up here for almost 15 years asking to get some sort of watershed management plan in place,” he said.

In response to the concerns, the council directed City Hall’s staff to ensure there are clearly identified details about the work to be done and the expected outcomes; there will be public involvement in the process; a priority will be placed on reuse of collected water and controlling water flow as far upstream as possible; and consideration of the effect of floodwater runoff on the bluffs.

Following the council’s decision, Helly said he remained skeptical of city officials’ approach to the master plan.

“They’re trying to put a veneer on something that is fundamentally flawed,” he said.