West Coast
Matthew Suárez / San Diego Reader

CA - Will Sand Save San Diego North County's Bluffs?

Jayme Timberlake — tide-watcher, restoration ecologist, avid surfer — light-foots it down Encinitas’s iconic Stone Steps.

She’s barefoot, having kicked off her shoes and left them on the sand-dusted floor of her truck cab. Desk-chained me follows, white legs and black tennies. We gaze up at the sentinel sandstone cliff-backs beside us and their telltale, sharp-edged furrows (or rills) of erosion. The sight feels perilous: 100-foot escarpments, topped by private homes and the occasional railroad-tie buttress.

Timberlake is the Coastal Zone Program administrator for the city of Encinitas. She is helping facilitate the town’s 50-50 share of a 50-year, $167 million Army Corps of Engineers sand replenishment project (laid out in 2670 pages of Corps-speak) that will cover a two-mile long and 50-foot wide shore. Solana Beach will get the other share of sand: a 1.7-mile long stretch of coast and a 150-foot wide beach. The Corps’ super-spreader plan affects beaches that lie below dozens of homes and condo units. Its half-century timeframe runs to a couple generations (geologically a wink) because sand regularly shifts and washes away during winter storms.

Timberlake says that in recent decades, the shift in beach restoration has changed from “recreational benefits” to “coastal protection with sand.” What needs protecting? The beach and the bluff. Both things make the coast, and the coast is being ravaged. A California catastrophe, to be sure. The East Coast’s beaches and estuaries are inundated by higher tides and more frequent floods. Think of Hurricane Sandy surging into lower Manhattan. Here in the west, the coastline is wilder, the waves bigger, the geography less uniform, and the shoreline more susceptible to trapped sediment and cliff erosion.

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