Dredging of the flood-prone Smuggler's Gulch channel and the Tijuana River that had been allowed to proceed was again halted on Thursday, February 22, as attorneys fighting the City of San Diego over its permit process filed an appeal of a decision to let the dredging start.
City Storm Water Division deputy director Gus Brown confirmed that the department received a court order to stop work at 10 a.m.
The city had worked out a deal with lawyers in October to allow emergency dredging of the channels that carry stormwater draining from the U.S. and Mexico into the Tijuana River Valley, most of which is at or below sea level and is prone to flooding. The floods (including some in 2008 and 2010) wreak havoc on the horse ranches and farms in the valley.
"Right now, the [drainage] channels are so full of sediment that they're almost useless," Brown said.
River Valley ranchers said they were very disappointed and worried about the decision to stop the dredging. But attorney Marco Gonzalez said it was important to make the city follow its own procedures before they undertake the work.
"It's part of a bigger problem we have with the city over dredging,” said Gonzalez. “They go in year after year, saying it's an emergency so they don't have to do a full environmental review — well, if you have to do this every year, it's not really a surprise or an emergency. They keep doing that to avoid their own procedures and they keep losing in court because they don't want to follow the law."
Gonzalez said the city needs to look at the habitat that is destroyed by the dredging and mitigate for it, something an emergency permit lets them avoid.
Gonzalez noted that the rainy season for the region is pretty much over — until next year, as is the opportunity to dredge, since the breeding season for endangered birds in the river valley begins soon.
"It's not going to happen before March 15," he said. "That means it's not going to happen before September."