San Elijo Lagoon visitors to benefit from 31 extra parking spots, public trail

San Elijo
Thirty-one new public parking spots will be added near the lagoon with construction at the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority wastewater treatment plant.

A nearly complete, $20.6 million renovation of the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority wastewater treatment property along Manchester Avenue may provide the added benefit of easing the parking spot shortage at a nearby nature center.

Much of the construction work — the addition of a two-story administration building, changes to the site’s stormwater treatment systems and upgrades to site security — will improve the facility’s day-to-day operations, but what’s happening in the portion of the property that’s closest to Manchester Avenue will greatly enhance public access to the lagoon area, JPA General Manager Mike Thornton said last week.

Directly across Manchester Avenue from the wastewater treatment property is the San Elijo Lagoon nature center, which is a popular destination for people seeking to access the lagoon’s trail system. On weekend mornings, especially holiday weekends, the nature center’s tiny 15-spot lot fills up quickly and vehicles start circling the area looking for street parking.

The treatment plant project will create a new public parking option — a 31-spot lot where anyone can park, even if they’re not coming to the treatment facility, Thornton said. There’s going to be also a pocket park, a drinking fountain and a trailhead access point. A grand opening ribbon-cutting event is anticipated next month, he said.

Doug Gibson, executive director and principle scientist for the Nature Collective lagoon preservation organization, said his organization is looking forward to these changes.

“It’s been great working with Mike because he’s been really conscious of our needs,” he said.

Both he and Thornton said that area school children are likely to be among the beneficiaries of other elements of the treatment facility project. The nature center and the treatment plant already host joint education days where kids walk between the two spots to learn about lagoon ecosystems and wastewater treatment. The renovation plans include new classroom space as well as changes that will make it easier for employees to give public tours of the wastewater site, Thornton said.

In operation for more than 50 years, the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority handles wastewater for a 19-square-mile area that includes Solana Beach, as well as parts of Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe. The water treatment facility processes 5.25 million gallons of wastewater a day, and the JPA also owns and operates a recycled wastewater distribution system that provides recycled water for irrigation purposes to government, business and homeowners’ association customers.

The treatment plant facility was originally constructed in the mid-1960s, and the new, 15,000-square-foot, two-story administration building is much needed, Thornton said.

“The administration building has been a construction trailer. I literally worked two decades in a trailer,” he said.

Coronavirus pandemic issues caused a few headaches initially. Wastewater officials awarded the contract in March 2020, just before the San Diego region faced its first pandemic-related health restrictions, and then had to rework the contract to comply with those restrictions, Thornton said.

Work began in June 2020 and construction ultimately has ended up running on schedule, he added. While most of the project is set to conclude next month, a trail around the back side of the property won’t open to the public until early next year when nearby trails being built by the state Department of Transportation as part of a freeway widening project are scheduled to be done, Thornton said.