Beaches, Sand and Money: The SANDAG Sand Project

Why the latest SANDAG 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 planed $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 hoisted 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.

Serge Dedina October 04, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Dear IB Needs Us: It easy to make inane comments and suggestions on serious policy issues when you don't have the courage to use your real name when posting comments--especially since your suggestions for solving our ocean pollution problems are ridiculous. Constructing a jetty would have no impact on reducing ocean pollution at all -at any level. I'm also not sure what mobilizing thousands of volunteers including military families, border patrol agents and concerned citizens to clean up hundreds of tons of solid waste has to do with "tree-hugging". It is easy to post negative comments on a website--but harder to make a difference in real life. Thanks to people like Paloma we are making a difference in solving a real problem-rather than spending our time making up fantasy solutions. Based on your comments you have demonstrated that IB really doesn't need you.
John Haupt October 05, 2012 at 08:40 AM
The sand project is great. With one exception. Notice the brown area of sand at the south end of the Boca Rios Condo development in the photo taken by Eddie of Wildcoast? That is seawater now possibly undercutting the structural base of this condo community. This seawater has been sighted on Seacoast Drive spewing through cracks in the pavement and in garage areas and is being driven above ground around utility pipes within the complex where they exit the ground. This is a new phenomenon. Hopefully the seawater now directed under several buildings will not create a sinkhole, move the complex or corrode out utility pipes. The mayor & city council have been notified of the problem by the HOA.
ellenhites October 05, 2012 at 12:41 PM
thank you for bringing this to our attention, mr. haupt! This is indeed potentially dangerous, and super scary, because we live here.
John Galt October 05, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Serge - Thank you for the personal attack. Just like other liberal losers, when faced with reality you turn and run belittling others. JERK! Now back to reality. Picking up someone’s trash is nice, but does nothing to solve the problem. I have done the trash pick-ups year after year after year. Until the polluters are held accountable, it will continue. Yes ACCOUNTABLE. Working with an all volunteer team in 2002, we submitted to congress woman, Suzan Davis, suggestions, to solve the pollution problem for the Tijuana River. These were developed with civil and mechanical engineers from a variety of backgrounds who volunteered their time and skills. A small pilot project would have been fully funded from philanthropic organizations without one dime of taxpayers’ money. Without going into details, the full cost of the project would have been a fraction of what has been wasted and build time was less than six months. Suzan Davis response was that nobody cared. The project needed political help with the Federal, State, and local governments on both sides of the border. Engineers are not politicians. Solutions are available for people who want them. Feel good efforts do nothing.
John Galt October 05, 2012 at 04:11 PM
WOW - that is something that may need immediate attention. I think if I was one of the owners I would be calling for some engineers to evaluate the situation, and not wait for a gonvernment response. Very unlikely that property insurance would cover any of this.


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