Long known as False Bay, the former marshlands were dredged between the 1940s and 1960s to create Mission Bay, the nation’s largest man-made aquatic park, much of it islands and peninsulas.
While not scarred by industry to the point of San Diego Bay, Mission Bay faces challenges. “We don’t really have the toxic waste or hazardous waste issues, but more biological pollution,” says John Anderson, who works with the local water control board. “Fecal coliform bacteria levels are quite high.”
According to Travis Pritchard, a program director with San Diego Coastkeeper, poor design choices when dredging the old False Bay and constructing the Mission Bay park have led to most of the site’s water-quality problems.
“It was a natural wetland, and in the ’40s we said, ‘You know what would be fun? Let’s dig up this wetland and have a recreational bay!’” Pritchard says, noting that between the bay’s narrow inlet, water circulation is blocked by SeaWorld’s marina, Paradise Point, Crown Point, and Fiesta Island before reaching the two fresh water sources that feed the bay from its eastern and northeastern edges. The route that water has to take to the ocean means much less of it is being exchanged through tidal flow than in a natural bay or lagoon.
“Mission Bay’s pressures mainly stem from inland waters being discharged at Tecolote Creek and Rose Creek,” Pritchard explains. “One of the problems with Mission Bay is that [the creeks] come in at the eastern edge of the bay, and because it’s a constructed wetland, that part of the bay doesn’t have great circulation.”