View of San Diego River from Santee
  • View of San Diego River from Santee
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The San Diego River begins as a trickle in the Cuyamaca Mountains northwest of the town of Julian. It then flows to the southwest until it reaches the El Capitan Reservoir and continues west through Santee and then Mission Trails Park on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Where the river and ocean meet, it formed the estuary that became the world’s largest manmade water park: Mission Bay. There is still an estuary there, a small one mostly contained by a concrete embankment and sandwiched between the south Mission Bay Jetty and Dog Beach.

In the 1820s, due to flooding and the resulting buildup of silts, the river began dumping into San Diego Bay. In 1877, to prevent the buildup of silts in the busy harbor, a levee was built to divert the river back to where it now flows.

In 2001, the San Diego River Park Foundation was established to promote the creation of a 52-mile-long system of parks, trails, and open spaces along the San Diego River. Clean-up projects and water-quality testing are among the ongoing efforts to return the river and its banks to a more natural state.

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laplayaheritage Nov. 23, 2016 @ 6:20 p.m.

Derby Dike north of Old Town, and a California Historical Landmark, was created by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1853 to divert the San Diego River.

"The first government action to imply that the San Diego river stood in need of curbing was the U. S. Coast Survey whose report of 1851 by A. D. Bache warned that the bay may be destroyed by the silting action of the river. “The only remedy for this evil is to turn the river into False Bay again. This is an excellent harbor and its loss would be severely felt.

Thus, Lt. George Horatio Derby, of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, was sent to San Diego in 1853 to build what was to become known as Derby’s Dike. On his survey map he noted that “during freshets of the rainy season, the marsh south of town is entirely’ inundated as well as part of the valley and plain bordering on the river.” Derby wanted to create a straight channel and levees for the river but he was ordered to deepen the old channel and build a levee from a point at the foot of the Presidio hill to the foot of Point Loma (1190 yards).

The old San Diego Herald, Sept. 24, 1853; noted that “sixty laborers with carts, wheelbarrows, etc., are to be put on the work at once and by carrying it on energetically it is hoped that it may be entirely completed before the commencement of the rainy season.” Derby complained that the plan was not sound, and funds were insufficient, and sure enough, the first “freshet” took out part of the dike, and in the heavy rains of 1855 the river went back into San Diego Bay."


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