Proposed San Diego Landfill a Threat to Drinking Water Sources, Endangered Wildlife and Sacred Native American Lands

NRDC Joins Diverse Coalition Challenging Army Corps Permit

LOS ANGELES (September 10, 2009) – Joining a diverse coalition of advocates for Native American rights, clean drinking water, and habitat preservation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today urging the Corps to reject a request to fast-track its review of a proposed landfill on the banks of the San Luis Rey River. The landfill applicant, Gregory Canyon Ltd., has requested that the Corps forgo full environmental review of a massive 308-acre landfill in unspoiled Gregory Canyon in San Diego County.

"In drought-plagued San Diego County, where the San Luis Rey River provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents, it would be the height of stupidity to site a garbage dump on the river’s banks,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney, NRDC. “The proposed landfill presents a real and unacceptable threat to the region’s precious drinking water supplies and threatens to destroy hundreds of acres of pristine open space and wildlife habitat.”

The proposed Gregory Canyon landfill site failed 7 out of 8 landfill siting criteria when reviewed by the County of San Diego. The site is located partly in a floodplain and near an earthquake fault; there are at least three endangered species on and adjacent to the sites; it is within 1,000 feet of an important archeological site; and it overlies a significant groundwater basin which is the sole source of water to the Pala Indian Reservation and the San Luis Rey Municipal Water District.

"This proposal to put a landfill on our sacred lands is like putting garbage in a church,” said Pala Tribal Chairman Robert Smith. “The project will pose a serious threat to the preservation of sacred Native American lands and the Army Corps must not let this disastrous project proceed.”


Twenty years ago, the County of San Diego conducted several public landfill site selection processes to determine the best location for a new landfill in the county. In each process, Gregory Canyon was proposed by its property owner and rejected by experts as inappropriate as a landfill site. In 1994, Gregory Canyon Ltd., the landfill proponents, abandoned the County’s site selection process and used a deceptive countywide ballot initiative to authorize a landfill in the canyon if permits for the landfill could be obtained.

Gregory Canyon Ltd. has applied for a “nationwide permit” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which requires the Corps to approve the placement of fill (construction) material into “waters of the United States” such as streams and wetlands.  Nationwide permits are intended only for activities with minimal adverse effects on the environment, such as minor maintenance activities or alterations to existing projects.

The area along the San Luis Rey River is designated as critical habitat for bird species including the endangered least Bell’s vireo and the southwestern willow flycatcher, and provides important habitat for the endangered southwestern arroyo toad and the threatened California gnatcatcher. Golden eagles have been identified on Gregory Mountain, which borders the east side of the canyon. Gregory Canyon itself contains coastal sage scrub and live oak woodland habitat that supports numerous species. 

The landfill also would threaten important sources of drinking water.  The San Diego Aqueduct, two pipelines that supply most of the drinking water used in San Diego County, bisects the site. In addition, the Pala Basin aquifer and other connected downstream aquifers which underlie the San Luis Rey River provide critical drinking water sources for thousands of residents and businesses throughout the region.

The proposed landfill also would desecrate sites considered sacred by the Pala Band of Mission Indians and other Luiseño people. These sites include Gregory Mountain, a residence of the powerful spiritual being Taakwic and a site considered to be a source of spiritual power and healing, and Medicine Rock, a spiritual site with ancestral rock art figures located just outside the footprint of the proposed landfill.