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San Diego Beaches Washing Away

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Several San Diego County beaches are losing sand. The natural replenishing processes have been blocked by development. Local officials want state and federal help to fix the problem. KPBS Reporter Ed Joyce has the story.

Some of San Diego County's most popular beaches are washing away. The beauty and weather that attracts people to the area is part of the problem. The natural processes of erosion that deposit sand along the shorelines are blocked by the development of homes and highways along the coast.

Steve Aceti: Well it's been happening over the last several decades where you have increased urbanization of the coast. And Southern California's coast is what's considered an urbanized coast. Lots of homes, lots of malls, lots of parking lots, lots of freeways streets, roads…

Several beach cities have dealt with this problem before. In 2001, the San Diego Association of Governments, with federal and state funding, sponsored a project to replace the sand. The San Diego Bay was dredged and 2-million cubic yards of sand was re-deposited on the coast. But now that sand is gone.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working on ways to replace the sand. The Corps estimates that Encinitas needs to add 340,000 cubic yards of sand every five years to keep its beach intact. Solana Beach would need 180,000 cubic yards. The cost --$20 million --a bill likely paid for by local cities, the state and federal government.

Aceti: It'll provide soft shore protection instead of having seawalls and revetments and jetties and everything else, the sand will extend the beach out to where the waves will break where they used to.

Joyce: Bluffs in Encinitas and Solana Beach have been collapsing for seven years. The falling hillsides hurt beachgoers and actually killed one person in Encinitas. Both cities want to reduce bluff erosion by adding sand to the beaches. Adding sand would not only protect beachgoers, it would replenish thinning beaches.

But not everyone thinks replacing the sand is a good idea. State and federal agencies disagree over how much sand can be added to the beaches without causing harm to offshore marine areas when that sand washes into the ocean. The Sierra Club says what's needed is a major coastal restoration plan. That would include eliminating seawalls, removing inland dams that block the flow of sediment to the coast and move coastal development inland. But Encinitas Mayor James Bond says replacing the sand every few years is worth the price.

Bond: Southern California is not Southern California without a beach. People don't come here to look at our Inland Empire. They come here to see Southern California beaches. And yes, it's critical, critical for us.

California officials say beach tourism brings in more than 61-billion-dollars to the state's coffers each year. Money that communities up and down the coast depend on. For now, cities like Solana Beach and Encinitas are waiting to see if the federal government will also see the value in sandy beaches.

Bond:  We have interested the Army Corps in performing a reconnaissance study. They're almost through with their feasibility study. And if we're fortunate, once they're all done they'll find a federal interest and we'll have a program where they can replenish sand on our beaches. People should really consider what Southern California is and what it would not be without our beaches.

Local officials met with Army Corps of Engineers staff in Los Angeles recently stressing the need for the study to be finished. There's still no word on when the Corps will wrap up its work to allow the communities to move ahead with plans to put sand back on the beaches. Not satisfied with the results of the meeting, they contacted U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to help pressure the Corps. She's offered to assist the cities in moving the Army Corps study along.

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