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San Diego Beaches Get A Sandy Boost

Video by Nic Mcvicker

San Diego County beaches will get a fresh shot of sand this fall. The $28.5 million dollar project will move offshore sand onto six of the county's beaches. KPBS Business and Environment reporter Erik Anderson says the first location to get the beach enhancement treatment is Imperial Beach.

San Diego County beaches will get a fresh shot of sand this fall. The $28.5 million project will move offshore sand onto eight of the county's beaches. The first to get the treatment is Imperial Beach.


Erik Anderson, KPBS Business and Environment Reporter

Shelby Tucker, Associate General Counsel, SANDAG

Tom Cook, Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter


SANDAG's Shelby Tucker stood on a slender beach, just south of the Imperial Beach Pier. She let a handful of sand sift through her fingers.

"The sand here is sort of soft, naturally. It feels good on your toes," said Tucker.

The problem is there just isn't enough of it along the Imperial Beach shoreline. And several other communities are worried about the width of their sandy beaches. So starting this week, sand will be sucked up from an offshore site.

"The sand that we're going to bring from the Mission Beach site is going to be a little bit more brown," said Tucker. "It's going to be coarser. And it's really going to be an ideal type of sand, because the larger the grain size the longer it'll stay on the beach."

Between now and November, crews will take 1.4 million cubic yards of sand resting offshore and boost the sand level at eight beach locations.

"We've just changed our environment so dramatically, through dams, through flood control, just paving over things," Tucker said. "You know, the way sand used to come and be delivered to the beach naturally has sort of gone away so the way to sort of protect this resource is to regularly maintain these beaches by beach nourishment."

It's the second time SANDAG has coordinated a major beach nourishment project. The first was 11 years ago and that effort moved more than 2 million cubic yards of sand.

"Our monitoring program from 2001 showed that the sand stayed for approximately five years. There's some places where it stayed longer," said Tucker.

This project is smaller because the city of San Diego couldn't afford to participate. But Imperial Beach, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach are taking part. Several offshore sites will feed the sand starved beaches so that they will continue to feed San Diego's economy.

"Tourism in San Diego is an $8 billion impact and that's direct economic impact, so very significant," said Joe Terzi, president of the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. He said beaches always score high when visitors are asked why they spend vacation dollars here.

"Sand is really important. Great beaches with great waves and clean beaches with attractions that really help support tourism are really key to our destination and our future."

Boosting the beaches is a plus, but the local Surfrider Chapter doesn't want the sand to wash out local surf breaks. So they're using six cameras to monitor the waves at beach nourishment sites. It's a professionally designed research study put together by Surfrider's Tom Cook. He points to one of the cameras on a bluff above Fletcher Cove. That camera will allow him to compare the current surf here to what happens after the sand arrives.

"What we don't want to see is as we nourish beaches out in front of reefs, that sand coming out in front of the reef and causing the wave to just break all at once," said Cook.

Cook's team will record ten minutes of surf each day and evaluate that footage against criteria that measure the quality of the surf. What the researchers find in the videos will be shared with SANDAG and the California Coastal Commission. Both of those organizations welcome the results of the study. That gives the local chapter reason to be optimistic.

"What we're really hoping for is that this type of monitoring will be required of all large projects in the future," said Julia Chunn-Heer, of the Surfrider Foundation. "Whether it's restoration along the coast or other beach nourishment projects that the planners start looking at and protecting the surfing resources and well as the biological impact."

Dredging is expected to begin by the end of the week in Imperial Beach. The other beaches will get sand in October and November, weather permitting.

Videographer Nicholas McVicker contributed to this story

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