Size of planned reservoir in La Jolla Heights Natural Park to be reduced

The La Jolla View Reservoir in La Jolla Heights Natural Park is planned to be replaced with an underground reservoir.
The La Jolla View Reservoir off Encelia Drive in La Jolla Heights Natural Park is planned to be demolished and replaced with an underground reservoir.

Plans for a controversial project to build a new 3.1-million-gallon underground reservoir in La Jolla Heights Natural Park to replace two existing water storage tanks have taken a turn recently, with the city of San Diego looking to reduce the size of the replacement.

Also, it would be built in the same location as the current La Jolla View Reservoir tank rather than somewhere else in the park.

The project, in development since 2010, has been making the rounds of community planning groups since 2015.

The plan would replace the 720,000-gallon, above-ground La Jolla View Reservoir and the 990,000-gallon, partially above-ground Exchange Place Reservoir. The existing reservoirs and the Exchange Place Pump Station would be demolished.

The La Jolla View Reservoir is off Encelia Drive in La Jolla Heights Natural Park above the La Jolla Country Club area. The Exchange Place Reservoir is a few blocks away, near the corner of Country Club Drive and Pepita Way.

In May, the city completed a third-party engineering and hydraulic re-evaluation of the scope of the project.

“The independent ... analysis recommended that the project be rescoped as a ‘replace in place’ and the size of the reservoir can be reduced,” said city spokesman Tyler Becker.

Specifics such as the new size were unavailable.

La Jolla Community Planning Association member Patrick Ahern, who has been involved with the project since its early days, told the LJCPA board during its June 2 meeting that the change was spurred by “concerns expressed by the community, the LJCPA, natural habitat organizations and others because of the damage it could cause to this natural park and the impact [that the construction] would have on the surrounding residential area.”

He said the city listened to the concerns and has been working to reduce effects associated with “the hydraulics … the pressure, the access, construction, material delivery, staging and so forth.”

Becker told the La Jolla Light that “because of the significant changes recommended by the independent third party, we are currently working on additional engineering and technical analysis. That means additional details on the project schedule and budget are still being determined. Project team members are working to schedule a community meeting within the next three months to discuss the project and the next steps.”

The La Jolla View Reservoir was built in 1949 and the Exchange Place Reservoir was built in 1909. Both have been deemed unable to keep up with current water demands.

When the replacement project was being circulated to La Jolla planning groups, many requested an environmental impact report on how the surrounding park would be disturbed and how those disruptions would be mitigated. However, when a draft report was released, many group members found it lacking on traffic mitigation, park access, preservation of natural resources and impacts on neighbors during construction.

A working group was formed with members of different planning groups to meet with city officials, suggest changes to the EIR and discuss alternatives.

In discussing the project in early 2021, city staff and consultants described how various effects would be mitigated, specifically from trucks traveling the narrow, winding street that would be used to access the reservoir, along with restoration, vegetation and care of the area’s natural resources.

San Diego associate civil engineer Bilal Oriqat told the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee that there would be 3,000 truck trips during the mass grading phase, down from an earlier, “unbelievable” estimate of 14,000 trips (Oriqat said the previous project management team provided the larger estimate) and no more than 50 truck trips per day.

Further, he said, the area that is disturbed “will be revegetated with a mix of plants consistent with what occurs naturally there. Certain eucalyptus trees will be removed in order to perform the demolition and restoration of the site. The trees that can be saved, which is a fair amount of them, will be kept. What has to be removed, we will replace with native vegetation.”

Still dissatisfied, the planning groups continued to work with the city.

In April 2021, the city put the project on a brief hiatus to allow local groups to make a recommendation on the environmental documents and re-evaluate the area’s water needs. ◆