San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy

P.O Box 230634
Encinitas, CA 92023

760-436-3944

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About Us:
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is a public-spirited, non-profit citizens group formed in 1987 with the mission to preserve, protect and enhance the natural resources of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and its watershed. The Conservancy is governed by a volunteer board of directors, which sets policy for the executive director and staff. The Conservancy raises funds through membership dues, solicitation of private and corporate donations, and public and private grants. Funds are used to support projects that directly benefit the health of the lagoon and its watershed or upgrade services available to visitors.

History:
Native American tribes hunted and gathered along the shores of the estuary at least 8,000 years before European settlers arrived. Shell middens, the refuse of hunting-gathering societies, show the earliest inhabitants relied heavily on coastal resources, including foods such as scallops, clams, shark, barracuda, bonito, and abalone. The ocean provided such a rich and constant source of food. These early people stayed at the coast for long periods. More recently, the Kumeyaay occupied the area. They traveled seasonally to take advantage of resources both along the coast and inland.

In 1769, the Portola Expedition named the area San Alejo in honor of Saint Alexius. In the early 1800s Spaniards and other Europeans settled the region and set up cattle ranches. The California Gold Rush brought an ever-increasing influx of people. Settlers established the community of Olivenhain, along Escondido Creek, as an experimental farming community. Farmers plowed and planted the riparian corridors upstream of the estuary. It was the first time humans radically changed the vegetation and terrain surrounding the lagoon. Non-native plants were introduced that later proved highly invasive.

Between 1880 and 1940 dikes and levees were built that allowed duck hunting, salt harvesting, and sewage settling ponds. The most permanent changes were the construction of the railroad, Pacific Coast Highway, and Interstate 5. Each required supporting berms that restricted water circulation and the natural influx of ocean water.

Other problems associated with construction include increases in sediment from surface erosion and road fill failures. Fine sediment can negatively affect reproductive and rearing success of aquatic populations.

In the 1960s various developments were proposed to cover the lagoon: condominiums, a golf course, a marina, a closed saltwater lake, and even a theme park with water rides. But the community ultimately said no. Citizens, scientists, lawyers, and neighbors who loved the lagoon and its wildlife formed the San Elijo Alliance, which successfully fought for its preservation.

Since that time the momentum of public support for the lagoon has continued. A $1.4 million grant from the Ford Motor Company in 2000 enabled the Conservancy to purchase additional acreage. The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation has also been instrumental in adding more land to the reserve.

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