Buena Vista Lagoon
In Action


Over the years...

Enjoy the history of the Buena Vista Lagoon as seen through the eyes of various long-time residents and those who have been heavily involved with the lagoon over the years. These studies, narratives and images provide a wealth of different insights into the lagoon and are a must-see for history and nature enthusiasts alike!

More than just a lagoon...

Buena Vista Lagoon has very extensive history. Click below to read about the start of the lagoon until present date. You can also download the information as a PDF for reference.



The Buena Vista Lagoon is composed of two hundred acres of freshwater marshlands, is home to over two hundred species of wildlife and fifty species of plants, and is a regular destination for bird watchers, artists and naturalists, sunset aficionados, fisherman, and drive-by commuters.  The Lagoon's future condition, however, is seriously THREATENED by upstream erosion and shoreline development.Great flocks of native and migratory birds, including threatened and endangered species, regional ducks and geese, turtles, frogs, even an occasional flamingo, all share the Buena Vista Lagoon. The active efforts of the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation ensures that these plants, animals, and humans will be able to enjoy the Lagoon for years to come. The Foundation draws support from Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Vista, and continues a forty-year tradition of citizen participation on behalf of Buena Vista Lagoon and has played an important role in the projects listed below.  Support for these projects would not be possible were it not for our member's contributions.


Back in 1964, many of the Foundation’s charter members took part in a mighty effort to have the Buena Vista Lagoon declared a state park. Although the project failed for lack of state funds and maintenance/access complications inconsistent with a state park format, it has not been forgotten. This promotion of the Buena Vista Lagoon led to the invention of “Ecological Reserves” by state legislature, areas acquired to protect critical habitat for threatened or endangered species. The California Department of Fish and Game’s ecological reserve system was authorized by the Legislature in 1968 with the acquisition and designation of the Buena Vista Lagoon as an ecological reserve in San Diego County. Today, more than 109 ecological reserves throughout the state protect more than 112,000 acres of habitat. 

The Buena Vista Watershed extends approximately 10.6 miles inland from the coast, totaling 14.437 acres and draining 19-21 square miles. The Watershed begins on the western slopes of the San Marcos Mountains, channels mainly through Buena Vista Creek in Vista, turns into the Buena Vista Lagoon in Carlsbad and Oceanside, and then ends at the Pacific Ocean. Urbanization of the watershed has increased discharge of contaminants to the lagoon, discharged wastewater contributed sludge in the lagoon, and wetlands have been filled in. Substantial volumes of sediment, predominantly silt, were deposited in the lagoon during peak storm flows of 1969, 1978, and 1980.

With encouragement by the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation in 1982, the State Coastal Conservancy allotted $40,000 to develop a watershed enhancement plan for the Buena Vista Lagoon watershed. Phase 1 was an engineering study completed by Brown & Vogt in 1982, the Sedimentation Basin Plan, which determined that detention basins were the best solution for controlling creek bed erosion and for reducing transport of sandy sediments to the lagoon. This study included computer modeling of the watershed. Various siltation control methods were discussed but no final solutions were proposed for the silt-clay fraction of the sedimentation. Phase II of the plan was completed in 1985 by June Applegate & Associates who focused on the Buena Vista Creek channel improvements and upstream detention basins via additional watershed modeling, hydraulic modeling of the lagoon, and prioritizing sediment management procedures based on a cost-benefit analysis. The authors hypothesized that if predicted rates of sedimentation occur, the life of the lagoon could be 10-20 years. See the Annotated Bibliography of Reference Publications for more detailed summaries of these reports. 
As a result of those studies and additional California State Coastal Conservancy funding, the design and construction of detention basins was completed in upstream places of the watershed such as the one behind Monte Vista Elementary School in Vista and at Brengle Terrace Park also in Vista, as well as the design of the lower channel near Costco. These solutions have helped deter erosion of Buena Vista Creek and sediment accumulation in the Lagoon.

In 1983, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation encouraged and facilitated a major excavation project costing approximately $838,000.00 by agreement between the California Department of Fish & Game and the City of Carlsbad to remove approximately 160,000 yards of excess sedimentation from the east end of the lagoon, dredging up siltation from the bottom, resulting in the creation of wildlife islands. This dredging restored a portion of the lagoon to its pre-1978 condition and provided additional depth at the mouth of Buena Vista Creek to accommodate some future deposition. The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation also hosted an island naming competition for two of the islands: Isla De Las Patitos (island of little ducks) and Nido Segura (safe nest). 

For a while, the new silt islands created by the 1983 excavation were full of mud and cracks, which was dangerous for the already endangered birds, specifically the California Least Terns and their nesting habits. Via procurement of monies from the State Environmental License Plate Fund and special legislation, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation aided in the Island Restoration project which basically capped the islands with sand, filling the holes and cracks achieving a flat nesting area for the endangered birds. Though the California Least Terns did not return, the islands now host yet another endangered species, the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow which currently nests there.

Funded by the California State Coastal Conservancy with a “revolving” grant, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation contracted with Phil Stanbro in 1983 to complete a Stewardship Plan. Phil Stanbro also performed a thesis [link to thesis in appendices] on the Buena Vista Lagoon presented to San Diego State College in 1971. This project also included a Public Access Plan [LINK to Public Access Plan in Annotated Bibliography] in 1984 performed by Halsey Design Group which identified existing and potential public accesses to the Lagoon, including preliminary design of the duck observation area, now called the Wildlife Visitation Area. The Foundation repaid the full amount of the grant to the Conservancy.

The Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center was built in 1983. The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation assisted and supported the Audubon Society (Buena Vista Chapter) in the lease agreement with the City of Oceanside ($1/year) and in the construction and funding of their Nature Center building. The Nature Center is located at 2202 South Coast Highway in Oceanside, exhibiting the biological resources and habitat of the watershed. Call 760-439-BIRD (2473) for more information. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10-4 pm and Sundays from 1-4 pm. The Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center attracts more than 6,000 visitors annually from all over the world. The center currently houses interactive educational displays and offers community meeting space. Programs are offered for the local schools and community groups. The Buena Vista Audubon Society also has Nature Guides who are trained to lead nature walks on the shores of the lagoon. 

In 1983, The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation established an Environmental Hotline for erosion, siltation, boating, hunting and vandalism violations. The Foundation also sponsored erosion control workshops with cities to promote awareness and develop strategies to avoid continued, excess erosion and sedimentation upstream of the Lagoon.
While the state Coastal Act and other laws prohibit the destruction of California’s wetlands, the Lagoon remains threatened, caught in a seemingly endless tug of war between environmentalists and developers. In the eyes of state resource management officials, North County represents the final battleground for coastal wetlands in Southern California. Protecting the geological survival of the lagoon is only part of the conservation effort. Overcoming the pressure of development is paramount in securing a favorable future for the lagoon, and the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation has played an active role in securing an acceptable interface between the natural environment and development surrounding the lagoon. 

With the proposed development of the Hosp Grove property south of the Lagoon in 1986 and the proposed eradication of many Eucalyptus trees, The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation supported Friends of Hosp Grove, a citizens’ group, in their case with the City of Carlsbad. The City of Carlsbad put the issue to a vote, which led to the acquisition of the Hosp Grove area by the City and the creation of Hosp Grove Park, a city park with thousands of Eucalyptus trees and several miles of street-side and biking trails built by local volunteers. 

The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation negotiated with developers, the Cities, and the California Department of Fish and Game for mitigation alternatives on several projects surrounding the lagoon, notably the Pacific Coast Plaza project in 1995-1996. After many major concessions by the developer, and extensive communication between Foundation directors and state officials, Pacific Coast Plaza developers, the Gatlin Co., made a $100,000.00 “donation” to the Foundation as wetlands mitigation for their Wal-Mart anchored shopping center on the northeast corner of the Lagoon. 

With an opportunity for a grant and construction sources, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation facilitated the funding and construction of the Hosp Grove Trail near Hosp Grove Park, the beginning of a projected 12-mile trail system around Carlsbad’s lagoons.

This event, jointly sponsored by the Cities of Carlsbad and Oceanside, and the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation, draws many participants every year who scour the shoreline from east to west, cleaning out homeless camps and tidying up the entire area. 
In 1991, the new Wildlife Visitation Area was completed thanks to funding by a California State Parks and Recreation grant and a Memorandum of Understanding between California Department of Fish & Game and the City of Carlsbad who took the lead on the construction of the project and substantial additional public improvements along Jefferson. 

The Wildlife Visitation Area (aka “Duck Landing”) is a great place to bring kids and a camera. It's just a stone's throw from Plaza Camino Real and makes a fine nature break after the mall and viewing of wild mallards, sizeable geese, as well as “wilder” birds such as the pink-legged stilts in the shallows, and pied-billed grebes further out on the water. In the winter you might see Canada geese and white pelicans. Sometimes there are large, black Muscovy ducks, showy fellows with bright red wattles, the only other ducks that have been successfully domesticated, beside the mallard.

While this area continues to attract visitors young and old, it is also a main trouble spot. The old tradition of feeding a few scraps of old bread to the feathered friends had somehow evolved into a mega feeding frenzy, with well-meaning but obviously misguided benefactors depositing huge cartons of bread and cookies on the shoreline. As a result, the domestic ducks became bored with eating, the wild ducks got pretty jaded too, and the shoreline became a mess there. All the rotten bread is a potential source of disease. The Foundation and California Department of Fish and Game eventually felt compelled to secure the area for supervision and post informational signs advising patrons of this detriment for the benefit of the birds as well as the safety and cleanliness of the shoreline there. 

In 1991, with a Preliminary Concept Plan by Wallace Roberts & Todd, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation proposed building a quarter-mile boardwalk at the lagoon’s western end that would run beside the lagoon connecting the Audubon Nature Center in Oceanside with Maxton Brown Park in Carlsbad alongside Carlsbad Boulevard to Coast Highway, as well as a southern boardwalk-sidewalk beginning at the Wildlife Visitation Area extending .3 miles westerly to I-5, and a sidewalk linkage from the freeway to Maxton Brown Park near the ocean, a distance of .8 miles, skirting sensitive bird habitat and private property at the lagoon. The western boardwalk would literally build a bridge between Oceanside and Carlsbad that would provide a way for visitors to enjoy the amenities of both cities, keeping pedestrians and fisherman somewhat removed from the heavily-traveled Carlsbad Boulevard. The walkways would give pedestrians, bicyclists, and bird watchers better access to the lagoon. The idea of a boardwalk was even discussed back in the 1960’s, but the idea didn’t go very far at the time. Attempts at grant funding have failed. Continued efforts have been made to make the plan more grant-worthy, as well as seeking out alternate resources for funding, which is the main issue in getting this project rolling. The City of Carlsbad has taken the lead on this project, and it is still pending due to a variety of issues including engineering for widening Coast Highway / Carlsbad Boulevard between the cities, the I-5 widening project by CalTrans, and the results of the Restoration Feasibility Analysis analyzing alternatives for the future of the lagoon. 

A universally recognized problem, cattails and bulrushes (tule) continue to grow at a staggering rate, most notably in the eastern and central areas of the lagoon. Drainage basin measures, detention basins, and channel improvements to prevent further siltation are either under construction or completed. Because it is widely agreed that a major dredging project is necessary to fix the lagoon which will take a long time to approve (and that a small scale attempt would be futile), no current resources or projects to combat the tule problem had been undertaken until 1995. 

A group of volunteers gathered on multiple Saturdays to “combat” the tule problem with a small scale test project to slowly and continuously clear tule overgrowth, discourage regrowth by CDFG supervised herbicide control (as is practiced at St. Malo), eventually acquire mechanical means to large scale clearing, maintain continuous volunteer maintenance by hand removal, trimming, and spraying to maintain gains until major restoration project occurs. The vegetation would then be dried and shredded for compost. There was talk of coordinating with local organizations to hire homeless men to perform hand removal of the tule on a regular basis if the idea worked. So a group of volunteers, including members of the Buena Vista Audubon Society, the League of Women Voters, students from Mira Costa College, and people from Brother Benno’s Kitchen, got together near the Nature Center, took the boat out, cut away at the massive tule and toted it out of the lagoon. While their valiant efforts temporarily opened vistas to the lagoon, they were largely ineffective and actually encouraged more aggressive growth than before, unfortunately confirming the futility of hand removal, so the project was aborted, and everyone eagerly awaits the large scale solution. 

However, this project did make a dent in the tule invasion, and more importantly drew attention to the needs of the lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation efforts to meet them. The project not only temporarily enhanced the lagoon, but also demonstrated the community support that helped bring on additional funding from passers by stopped to write checks to major mitigation funds from the developers of the Wal-Mart project. In addition, BVLF member Brian M. Burr, president of the Upper Deck Company in Carlsbad pledged matching funds to the state monies, not only boosting the budget but also allowing the Foundation to move into the higher echelon of grant sources that routinely require commitments of matching funds. Thus, the “sweat equity” created by this otherwise unsuccessful project along with some negotiating by the Foundation directors, led to the acquisition of the funding for the Restoration Feasibility Analysis. 

Mosquito infestation has been on the rise with the shallowing, relatively stagnant water at the lagoon and is a valid concern for local residents and visitors. The Foundation continues to encourage the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health to target the Lagoon to deter excessive mosquito infestations combating the spread of diseases such as Malaria, Yellow Fever, Sephalitis, and the latest West Nile Virus. Due to difficulties in surface level abatement operations with the increased amount of cattails and bulrushes, aerial spraying was begun last year and is now more aggressive with regular monthly monitoring and service. Please refer to the County of San Diego’s Vector Surveillance and Control Program website for more information, or call (858) 694-2888.

An overflow dam at the mouth of the lagoon controls the minimum water level of the Lagoon. It was rebuilt in 1971 to replace a system of pipes, provided in 1940 by members of the Buena Vista Lagoon Association, which was washed out in 1969 storms. The dam, or weir, in conjunction with a natural beach berm at the mouth of the lagoon prevents the ocean water from flushing the lagoon, and maintains the freshwater quality of the lagoon (a weir is designed to let water flow over it while raising the water level behind it, while a dam is designed to hold water back). The unimposing structure is basically a 50-foot wide concrete wall barely visible under the water in good weather. 
The problem with the weir is that the top of the weir was constructed too narrow to handle seasonal storm flows, and an adjustment is necessary to fulfill its original intent. In heavy storms, such as those of 1982 and 1996, water flowing from the lagoon to the sea can overwhelm the weir and sweep into St. Malo to the north. There are concerns that a 100-year flood would wipe the weir out completely. Proposals to replace the weir at its existing elevation to maintain the water level or widen the weir on either side to 80-feet have been on the table since 1982. The project could potentially add a new gate that could be opened or closed as needed to allow more flow during storms. The City of Oceanside has taken the lead on weir improvement and already has money set-aside for this purpose. However, most of the projects including this one are now pending as they require the completion of a Land Management Plan, which is pending the completion of the Restoration Feasibility Analysis. So, the future of the weir is on hold while the future of the entire lagoon is examined.

In 1996, a Land Trust Grant Application for $3,000.00 was submitted by the Foundation for the funding of a joint-agency workshop resulting in a comprehensive strategic plan for the lagoon. On September 25, 1996, the Buena Vista Lagoon Strategic Plan was created by members of the Joint Powers Committee, representatives from Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista, officials from the California State Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission, California Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers, all of whom play an active role in the preservation, protection, and enhancement of the Lagoon’s resources. This new Strategic Plan has helped guide the planning and implementation actions for the lagoon for many years. The seminar also served to be a landmark occasion for the future of the lagoon and expanding role of the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation as a catalyst for lagoon concerns. 

In January 2003, preliminary engineering began on the widening of I-5 where it passes through the Lagoon including the addition of HOV lanes in the median with goals to “minimize environmental impacts while enhancing corridor scenic values and community character.” The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation will encourage smart and sensitive planning through this area in coordination with CalTrans. See the CalTrans website for more information. 

In order to be properly evaluated, most of the projects suggested for the lagoon require completion of a California Department of Fish & Game “Land Management Plan.” Currently, the Department is working from a draft Interim Management Plan. The Foundation stepped in through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department to assist preparation of the Buena Vista Lagoon Land Management Plan by contracting with professionals to perform initial work in accordance with Department guidelines and procedures. The Foundation contracted with Coastal Environments and Project Design Consultants for preparation of the Land Management Plan Elements report in 2000, providing the necessary physical and biological data for development of the new Land Management Plan, including baseline surveys of lagoon biology, soils, habitats, and legal boundaries, a report, record of survey (completed in 2003), and base map. Click here to view the full, final report (227 pages, 10MB). 

A key portion of the Restoration Feasibility Analysis is sediment characterization, which will be used in evaluating disposal options and the associated costs of sediment management alternatives. There was very little data available documenting the range of sediments throughout the different basins in the lagoon, so the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation procured federal funds in the amount of $60,000.00 in a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 towards coordination and administration of restoration planning, and additional data collection. The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation contracted with Everest International Consultants and Battelle Memorial Institute to perform analysis of potential dredge material from the lagoon bottom. This study resulted in a technical report issued in 2003 presenting sampling, analysis, and quality assurance results which characterize sediments at the lagoon.

Estimated to be a $623,000.00 project, Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation cooperated with the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Network to propose a Restoration Feasibility Analysis (Study), which would outline alternatives for the future of the Buena Vista Lagoon. In February 2001, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation was granted $433,000.00 from the California State Coastal Conservancy. Of this amount, $200,000.00 came from state funds in the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, and $233,000.00 came from the Carlsbad Agricultural Mitigation Account which is composed of conversion fees paid by developers of agricultural land in Carlsbad (such as Aviara) to be used for projects benefiting or enhancing natural resources in the coastal zone of the City of Carlsbad. An additional $50,000.00 is being contributed from the State Water Quality Control Board via an “Alternative Settlement Agreement” with the City of Vista related to a sewer spill at Vista’s pumping station which impacted the lagoon. These funds matched the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation’s already committed $130,000.00 to initial phases of the Study, plus an additional $10,000.00 in-kind staff resources from the California Department of Fish & Game. 

Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation sent out an RFP for the project in spring of 2002, and once the funding agreements were finally drawn and executed in August of 2002, the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation contracted with Everest International Consultants in September 2002, and the project was underway. 
The primary objective of the Study is to provide the information for the decision makers to select which hydraulic regime to pursue in the development of subsequent restoration plans and the associated lagoon Land Management Plan. A range of alternatives was developed to present potential restoration alternatives including a no action alternative identifying the habitat value and impacts that might occur if no restoration action is taken within the near future. The action alternatives examine three different hydraulic regimes – saltwater, freshwater, or mixed water, examining biological and sociological factors. Everest International Consultants has recently concluded their report and will be presenting their findings at the next public meeting on April 8, 2004. The Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation was also able to procure additional funding via the Restoration Feasibility Analysis agreement with the California State Coastal Conservancy for development of the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation website. 

Armed with restoration feasibility alternatives, the future of the lagoon is now up for discussion. Through the multi-year life of the restoration project, the Foundation will seek other grant funds and/or agency contributions or in-kind services to begin implementation of the plan once a specific project is proposed.

One of kind...

The Buena Vista Lagoon lies within the cities of Carlsbad and Oceanside in northern San Diego County, south of Highway 78, west of Jefferson Street.  The Lagoon is California's first Ecological Reserve and is owned by the California Department of Fish and Game.

More than just a lagoon...

This ecological and aesthetic jewel in the midst of a rapidly growing urban area provides:

• a visual treat for the thousands of people who drive by daily
• pleasures and challenges to the birders who observe many of the approximately 200 species that frequent the lagoon
• tranquility for those who stop at or slowly pass, on foot or bicycle, the numerous viewpoints and trails around its shore
• joy to the young and old who visit the friendly birds at the east end shoreline
• recreation for anglers
• an important ecological example of our rapidly disappearing coastal wetlands

While you’re visiting

¯     Fish from shore (Commercial fishing is not permitted).
¯     Walk or Hike, but only on established trails, paths, or other designated areas.

¯     Feed the wildlife.
¯     Release any fish or animal, including domestic species.
¯     Swim, wade or dive or use any diving equipment
¯     Deposit, drop or scatter any debris except in a receptacle designated for that purpose.
¯     Launch or operate a boat or other floating device except by permit from the California Department of Fish & Game Commission.
¯     Disturb birds or nests or eggs, plants, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, or any other form of plant or animal life except as noted elsewhere in these regulations.
¯     Bring dogs or cats in the reserve unless they are retained on a leach of less than 10 feet or are kept inside a motor vehicle.
¯     Drive, operate, leave or stop any motor vehicle, bicycle, or any other type of vehicle except on designated access roads and parking areas.
¯     Collect specimens unless you have a special Buena Vista Lagoon permit from the California Fish & Game Commission plus a scientified collecting permit. 
¯     Fire or discharge any firearm, bow and arrow, air or gas gun, spear gun or any other weapon.
¯     Use any pesticides on the reserve. In General, put nothing in, and take nothing out of the Reserve unless given permission by State Fish & Game Biologists.  Thank you.