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Beaches, Sand and Money: The SANDAG Sand Project

Why the latest regional beach replenishment effort is the best alternative to the economic and ecological dredge-and-fill disasters carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As I watch shorebreak bombs explode at the Quiksilver Pro France via webcast, one thing that stands out besides the crazy hollow shorebreak is the brown large grain sand local beaches are made of.

The beaches and sandbars of southwest France are filled with large grain brown sand that flows out of the estuaries and rivers of the region, resulting in some of the world’s best beach breaks for surfing.

Because much of the coastal zone along the southwestern coast of France remains free of development, with extensive barrier dunes still in place, the beaches aren’t subject to the same process of erosion as our beaches (but there is extensive erosion in coastal cities there).

In contrast, in San Diego, we have channelized and dammed our rivers and thrown up rocks, seawalls and structures along most of our coast.

In short, we have done everything possible to obstruct natural sand flow and enhance the non-stop cycle of beach erosion.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the prescription for our own coastal erosion mess in Southern California was for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a historically inept and mismanaged agency, to build large jetties along the shoreline and even more destructive breakwaters.

Later the Army Corps carried out massive dredge and fill projects to replace lost sand. In 1977 the Army Corps dumped massive amounts of toxic sediment and sludge from San Diego Bay on the beach in Imperial Beach.

Later the City of Imperial Beach and the Army Corps proposed the construction of a mile-long rock breakwater. Thanks to local surfers and the then fledgling Surfrider Foundation, we stopped that crazy scheme just as the Corps was ready to dump the rocks in the ocean.

More recently the Army Corps, in partnership with the City of Imperial Beach, once again dredged the most toxic and garbage-ridden sites in San Diego Bay and dumped the garbage, rocks, and rebar in Imperial Beach, along with toxic sediment.

WiLDCOAST worked with Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama Administration a few years ago to stop a planned $50 million project slated for Imperial Beach that proposed dredging an area near a sewage outfall pipe and WWI aerial bombing range.

That project involved no public consultation, secretive and highly paid sand lobbyists and PR films, millions spent on badly written environmental documents, and no effort to work with the public and/or use clean sand.

So dredge-and-fill projects have largely been a mess in San Diego County. However, of all the projects that have been carried out, those undertaken by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) have been managed in the most sensible way.

The 2001 regional beach replenishment effort by SANDAG resulted in the deposition of clean, high quality large grain sand, extensive public consultation, and the involvement of locally-based project managers who work with local stakeholders, something the Army Corps of Engineers has no interest in doing.

On Thursday, SANDAG will finish up its sand replenishment operations for Imperial Beach after having placed more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. The project is massive and has been well managed. For many surfers and beachgoers, the current sand project has been a field course in coastal geomorphology and engineering.

After finishing in Imperial Beach this week, SANDAG moves the project to Oceanside, Moonlight Beach, Cardiff State Beach, Batiquitos, and North and South Carlsbad.

In total, SANDAG will place more than 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on county beaches.

The new sand in Imperial Beach has temporarily wiped out rideable surf over much of the beach (Note to surfers: Don’t waste your time coming down to IB –the entire beach is a closed-out shorebreak), but I expect the sand to level out over the next few months.

As the project moves to Oceanside and the rest of North County, it will be critical for surfers and other stakeholders to monitor the project and evaluate its impacts.

As a surfer, coastal conservationist, and dedicated beachgoer, I know that having a local agency like SANDAG carry out these projects is a million times more preferable to having ecological and economic coastal disasters foisted upon us by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Serge Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. He is the author of Wild Sea and Saving the Gray Whale.

John Haupt October 26, 2012 at 04:42 AM
The above photo taken by Wildcoast points out the recent flooding at the south end of the Boca Rios Condo Complex. Seawater now percolates through cracks up through Seacoast Drive, within the car ports and around utility pipes coming up from the ground. Hopefully sinkholes are not developing under the buildings. The city has been put on notice about this by the HOA. What next?

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