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Oceanside Residents Lobby For New Strategy To Save Disappearing Beach

Nick Ricci of

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Nick Ricci of "SOS Save Oceanside Sand," stands next to the beach at Wisconsin Street in Oceanside, July 11 2019.

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A group of Oceanside residents wants to build rock “groins” or jetties to help stabilize the sand that is disappearing from their beaches. It’s a controversial strategy.

Aired: July 23, 2019 | Transcript

Many Southern California beaches are gradually disappearing, and communities along the coast are looking for ways to save the sand.

A group of Oceanside residents is lobbying for a new strategy to supplement the beach sand replenishment program that takes place every year when the Army Corps of Engineers dredges the harbor mouth.

Nick Ricci has lived in south Oceanside for a decade. He remembers not so long ago when the lifeguards could drive their trucks on the sand the two miles from the pier to Buccaneer Beach. No longer. Parts of the beach have disappeared completely, and waves wash up against a rocky wall of rip-rap that protects houses along the Strand.

Ricci is a spokesman for a group of residents called “SOS: Save Oceanside Sand.”

“Currently, we’re at Wisconsin Street,” Ricci said, waving an arm toward the ocean, “and if you look around, we have Lifeguard Tower 7, we have a beach parking lot with beach bathrooms, but yet we don’t have any beach.”

Even three years ago, Ricci said, there used to be a stretch of dry sand at low tide; now you have to pick your way among the rocks to get to where the beach widens to sand further north near the pier.

At high tide, there’s another problem: the ocean sometimes washes right over the Strand, threatening homes. City employees have to come out with mechanized brooms to sweep the water and beach rocks that litter the road.

Along with sand displacement, city studies indicate parts of the beach could disappear altogether by 2040, due to sea level rise.

Each year, the Army Corps of Engineers lays long pipes down the beach and pumps sand dredged from the mouth of Oceanside harbor onto the beach to the south.

This is to compensate for sand lost after the harbor was built in the 1960s because the rocky jetty that protects the harbor basin effectively stops sand from its natural southerly migration. The dredging helps keep the mouth of the harbor open and adds to the beach.

But the effects don’t last.

Ricci and his neighbors are now looking north to Newport Beach for ideas of how to save their sand.

"If you’ve never visited Newport Beach, the beach is wonderful, the waves are dynamic," he said.

Photo by Alison St John

Newport Beach, with rock groins or jetties visible in the distance, July 11, 2019.

Newport Beach is wide and generous. Ricci said it was not always that way. Back in the late 1960s the ocean was threatening the homes along the beach.

“So as a result of that, these homeowners were the ones that spurred the city into action," Ricci said. "And the Army Corps of Engineers built these groins, about 100 yards long, about 8 to 12 feet tall, about 12 to 16 feet wide.”

The groins, or jetties, are like rocky fingers that run under the beach and stick out into the ocean. The idea is that they stabilize the sand and stop it washing away. The groins have been there 50 years and appear to be working.

But Newport Beach lifeguards said the jetties do create problem rip currents.

Unintended consequences

Bob Guza of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla said groins have another major problem.

“Building groins to retain sand at one location basically prevents sand from getting down-drift,” he said. “So one beach’s gain from groins is the next down-drift's beach’s loss, because they took their sand.”

Sand tends to migrate south down the coast, especially in winter. But Ricci said Oceanside would not be depriving Carlsbad to the south of sand if they built rocky groins or jetties because the Army Corps would keep replenishing it every year.

Oceanside beach narrows to nothing south of Wisconsin Street. The wide beach in the foreground is replenished with clean sand dredged annually by the Army Corps of Engineers from the mouth of Oceanside harbor, June 11, 2019.

“Our plan is unique,” he said. "In that we believe that we will back fill those areas where the groins are, so there will be no stoppage of sand downstream, so to speak.”

Plus, Ricci said, some surfers are in favor of trying groins because the jetties sometimes improve wave action.

Guza acknowledged that surfers, the tourism industry and homeowners would probably support building groins to stabilize beaches.

“Groins can be definitely an effective way of stabilizing the beach at some locations,” he said. “The question is, if it’s cost effective? Is it worth the money?

Guza said the San Diego Association of Governments or SANDAG spent $30 million on beach replenishment in 2012, and much of that sand has washed away elsewhere. Beaches can be stabilized sometimes for decades, he said, but not indefinitely.

“We can’t stabilize all the beaches in Southern California for, say, the next 100 years,” he said. “It’s not financially possible. Which ones do we stabilize? Who makes that decision? It’s a political decision, as well as an economic decision.”

“When it ultimately comes to the coast, the decisions are made by money, power and the blow back from the Coastal Commission: that is the voice of the people in California,” Guza said.

Ricci said Save Oceanside Sand is obtaining estimates of what it would cost to build groins or jetties south of the pier, and it is in the tens of millions of dollars. He acknowledged this is a challenge facing all San Diego’s coastal cities, and he said his group may end up cooperating rather than competing for resources, to try to keep the sandy beaches that are such a symbol of the California lifestyle.

Listen to this story by Alison St. John.

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