COAST CITIES — The timing of sand replenishments in San Diego County has been anything but a sure bet.
One was completed in 2001, another in 2012, and there’s no set date for when the next countywide beach nourishment will be. But Solana Beach and Encinitas are taking a long-term view with a 50-year schedule of replenishments, the plan for which is currently up for public review.
“Replenishments have been a periodic, one-time fix,” said Katherine Weldon, Encinitas’ shoreline project manager. “We want a more permanent solution.”
The plan, more than a decade in the making, looks at ways to restore more than eight miles of beaches, beginning at the mouth of the Batiquitos Lagoon in Encinitas and south through Solana Beach, with the exception of north of Tide Park. Comments and input are welcome during a public workshop at Encinitas’ City Hall at 6 p.m. Feb. 6. Likewise, on Feb. 7 there will be a workshop at 6 p.m. at Solana Beach’s City Hall.
Weldon emphasized the need for nourishments. Currently, Encinitas beaches experience a net loss of 102,000 cubic yards of sand every year. Shrinking beaches contribute to a variety of problems, including bluff collapses. Weldon noted that lifeguards warned nearly 4,500 people in 2012 not to sit too close to bluffs in danger of failing. Their concerns can largely be traced to rocks from a bluff falling and killing a woman in 2002 near Stonesteps Beach.
Also, erosion threatens homes and infrastructure. Weldon cited Cardiff State Beach. When the beach there is parched, waves occasionally fling rocks onto Coast Highway 101. During especially big swells and high tides, powerful surges threaten the road.
“If we don’t do something we will always be in an erosional state,” Weldon said. “We will always go back to cobble.”
But Weldon said that the Encinitas’ beaches are in good shape right now because of the recent replenishment carried out by SANDAG. The Encinitas and Solana Beach nourishment plan is separate from SANDAG’s sand project, though SANDAG could still conduct nourishments in the cities should they do another countywide project.
Under the long-term plan, beach replenishments are scheduled to begin in 2015, funded by the Army Corps of Engineers and the two cities. How often and the size of the nourishments is still being discussed — with several different options on the table.
In Encinitas, one option calls for replenishing beaches every 10 years, adding 100 feet of sand to some areas. In another scenario, sand would be dumped on beaches every five years, expanding the sand area by 50 feet in some stretches. Also, some options include notch-ins designed to shore up cliffs.
Under the different Encinitas scenarios, the amount of sand dredged from offshore and placed on beaches varies from 340,000 to 800,000 cubic yards every cycle. As a reference point, SANDAG’s recent project unloaded 287,000 cubic yards of sand on Encinitas beaches.
In Solana Beach, scenarios range from a 13-year replenishment cycle that would add 200 feet to expanding the beach 100 feet every 10 years.
Depending on the plan chosen, the cost varies from $56 million to $108 million. Funding would be secured throughout the 50 years.
Encinitas lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles wasn’t familiar with the 50-year plan. But he said that Encinitas and Solana Beach have benefited from past sand replenishments.
“There’s more beach area for recreation,” Giles said.
“People and their vehicles in the safety services have more access up and down the coast for emergency services; it’s not so limited by the tides, especially in the wintertime when swells strip the sand,” Giles added.
Additionally, Giles said the nearshore ecosystem, including birds and sand crabs, is thriving as a result of the recent nourishment.
But not everyone is a fan of sand replenishments.
The plan’s environmental impact report states there would not be a significant impact on underwater wildlife.
Lobsterman Wayne Campbell hadn’t read the report, but said he’s against any beach nourishments. During past replenishments, sand washed off the beaches and buried reefs where lobsters reside, hurting his catch, he said.
“They’re a waste of taxpayer money,” said Campbell, who fishes the county’s coast, including Solana Beach and Encinitas.
Scripps scientist Bob Guza said the trend is unmistakable — local beaches will disappear in the next 50 to 100 years if action isn’t taken. He commended Encinitas, Solana Beach and other areas for having a long-term outlook — something more California cities could learn from, he said.
He expects plenty of healthy debate in the future on whether we should pursue more sand replenishments.
“The cost-benefit analysis of beach replenishments is complicated,” Guza said.
“Surfers aren’t sure whether it’s a good thing, fishermen are against it, and restaurant and homeowners are in favor,” Guza added. “There are a lot of variables to take into account.”