West Coast
Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside, as seen Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, is listed as one of the eroded beaches on the San Diego County coast. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

CA - Report details San Diego County's shrinking beaches

Agency’s monitoring program records changes from erosion at various coastal locations since 2022

San Diego County’s beaches need costly, sustained replenishment efforts to remain the wide, sandy tourist attractions they have been for so long, a new regional study shows.

Shorelines in south Oceanside, south Carlsbad, Leucadia and Coronado are shrinking fast, according to the 2023 “State of the Coast” report released Thursday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Only beaches bolstered by sand dredged from nearby lagoons, harbors and offshore deposits are maintaining their width or growing, says the report, presented Thursday at a meeting of SANDAG’s Shoreline Preservation Working Group.

Most California beaches have never been the wide, sandy expanses seen in East Coast states such as Florida, some experts say. Most of the West Coast shore is steep, rocky and pounded by powerful waves, and the beach culture popularized by movies and advertising is largely a myth.

“Beaches are the essence of California and provide its most important aesthetic and recreational asset,” oceanographer Reinhard Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography wrote in 1993 in his paper called “The Myth and Reality of Southern California Beaches.”

“Yet the widest sand beaches in Southern California have been created and are maintained by human activity,” said Flick, who today is an advisory member of the SANDAG working group.

People have dumped massive amounts of sand along the coast over the years and built groins, jetties and breakwaters to keep it there.

The California Coastal Commission, established by voters in 1972, discourages the construction of groins and other hard retention devices along the coast because, while they may hold sand in one spot, they contribute to erosion elsewhere. But the commission continues to promote and sometimes requires sand placement projects.

Human activity also is a factor in beach losses. Upstream development from river dams to parking lots stops the downstream flow of sediment. Coastal construction, such as homes and highways, prevents the natural erosion of cliffs and bluffs that contributes to beach growth.

SANDAG has led two regional projects that placed sand on multiple locations along the county’s coast. Those efforts were 11 years apart, and the most recent was more than a decade ago.

“After each of the regional beach projects we had gains, but they are only sustained for a couple years,” said said Greg Hearon of the environmental consulting firm Coastal Frontiers, who helped prepare the SANDAG report.

“It will get more critical as sea-level rise accelerates.”
— Oceanographer Reinhard Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The first project, completed in 2001, placed 2.2 million cubic yards of sand, primarily from the San Diego harbor, on beaches the length of the county. It cost $18 million, of which 60 percent was funded by federal grants and 40 percent by state grants.

A second regional effort, completed in 2012, placed 1.4 million cubic yards of sand pumped from offshore deposits on beaches at a cost of $26 million. The state paid for 85 percent of that project, with the local jurisdictions contributing 15 percent.

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