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San Diego Beaches Get A Sandy Boost

Nicholas McVicker
More Sand Coming to San Diego Beaches
San Diego Beaches Get A Sandy Boost
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.
Fresh Sand For Eight San Diego Beaches
GuestsErik Anderson, KPBS Business and Environment Reporter Shelby Tucker, Associate General Counsel, SANDAGTom Cook, Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diegans feel pretty strongly about their beach, whether it's the local tourism industry or surfer, coastal residents. Or just people who like to sit in the sand and watch the sun go down. When there's an operation to replenish the amount of San on San Diego beaches, there's plenty of support, as long as the project is done correctly. My guests, SANDAG protect manager Shelby Tucker. And Erik Anderson, KPBS business and environment reporter. Erik, what's causing erosion on our beaches? ANDERSON: Well, we have condition a wonderful thing here in Southern California and built this nice wonderful city right on the shore where everybody can enjoy it next to the beach. And in the process, what we did is we sort of choked off the sources of the sand. The natural sources. The shoreline erodes about a foot a year. And that used to provide a big chunk of sand for the local beach system. And a lot of sand used to wash out of the San Diego river, and we sort of built up around those rivers, they don't flow freely anymore. So they can't bring the sand along like they used to. The coastal areas, we don't allow some of that erosion to occur as it naturally did. And it's basically because we put a big city here, and it's kind of kept the natural feeder of sand away from the beaches. I think there was some acknowledgement ten years ago. CAVANAUGH: And you can see that the beaches need more sand because they actually get narrower. Is that the deal? ANDERSON: Sure. They get narrower. And ten years ago, there were some beaches that didn't have any sand at all. Sand washes in with the waves, washes out with the wave, sometimes it doesn't come all the way back in. When there's a big storm, sand goes away. It's not a perfect sense, it's not a closed system, some of it drifts away, it finds holes to go into, canyon, other places offshore. CAVANAUGH: Shelby, you're a SANDAG project manager. Which beaches will be part of the project? TUCKER: We'll be Appalachiasing sand at eight beaches in five cities. So we'll be at Oceanside, imperial beach, moonlight beach, Cardiff, vat quitose, Solana beach, and north and south Carlsbad. CAVANAUGH: And absent from that list is the City of San Diego. Why? TUCKER: In 2001, the City of San Diego was part of the project. They recently got a large amount of sand from an army corps of engineers project and they maced a lot of sand at the beach. CAVANAUGH: And there was a financial reason? ANDERSON: Sure, it's expensive to move sand. You have to pay for the dredging, and the crews, I think it's like $28.5 million for the project this time around. CAVANAUGH: How much sand will be restored to beaches? TUCKER: 1.4 million cubic yards of sand. So fill Qualcomm stadium about 80% full. And it'll be dispersed throughout the entire region. CAVANAUGH: Where does the sand come from? TUCKER: We'll be taking it from locations out in the ocean, about a mile off the coast in areas that have been surveyed to make sure the material is clean. And we load it onto the drudge, and the drudge takes it over to the beaches that are going to receive it, and it places it onto material onto the beach. And you'll see earth-moving equipment moving the material. CAVANAUGH: Is there a difference in the type of sand that's being brought in compared to the sand that's already on the beach? ANDERSON: Unless you really pay attention to it, you probably think sand is sand. It's not. There are different grain sizes, qualities of sand that comes from different sources. And I think the idea here was you wanted to find a sand that was not only clean, but matches somewhat with the receiving beach, but it's not too fine, you want to be courser so it'll stay in that beach system. TUCKER: Yes. I do sometimes go to presentations with buckets of sand so we can show people what the sand looks like. Yeah, we do. The environmental projection agency has types of sand, and the sand we plan to place on the beach matches with those. And in some place, you'll notice. It'll be a courser grain, and that's really ideal. CAVANAUGH: This sort of replenishment was done about 10 years ago. How successful was that project? TUCKER: We anticipated that the sand would stay approximately five years in places and shorter in other, and that's what happened. And it's really a maintenance effort. Our beaches bring us a lot of economic benefits, recreational, environmental, so is this just one of those things we need to take care of. CAVANAUGH: And are you doing anything differently this time from what you learned in 2001? TUCKER: Yeah. We learned that people place their beach towels near amenities and places where they can park. So in the city of Oceanside, we moved the location where the sand will be placed. It's called the receiver site slightly to the north, to sort of capture the larger beach-going population. So that area will beach will be wider, closer to the pier that happen it was in 2001. CAVANAUGH: According to the San Diego convention and visitors' bureau, beaches mean big money. ANDERSON: We are feeding the beaches now so they can feed our economy later. Tourism here in San Diego County is about an $8 billion of direct spending. These are dollars that tourists bring into the area and spend here. We have 70 miles of beaches along the San Diego County coastline. And people come to go to the beach. There are each people who came from Los Angeles, another area that has its own beaches. They come here because they want to get a little further away from their hometown but still want to be able to go to the beach. It's a critical part of the local economy. Joe Terzi told me that they do surveys regularly with people who come here on vacation, and the beaches showed up in almost half of all the surveys they did of the reasons people come here. We have lots of reasons to come here. Great weather, golfing, attractions, etc. But the beaches showed up as a reason to vacation here almost half the time. CAVANAUGH: Now, there is a concern that this be done correctly. And isn't there a concern that there's a possibility that it might damage surfing at the coast? ANDERSON: Well, I think what the concern is that what you're doing when you think about this project in the overall scope of things, you're taking a big resource, a lot of sand offshore, and moving it into the onshore environment. And a lot of people use that environment for different things besides sitting on the beach and getting a tan. And a lot of the surf breaks are sand-based breaks. So there's some concern that maybe moving sand there closes off a surf break in one location, and people who surf take that seriously. That's why they've measured what the sand does before it gets on these beach, but also what happens after the sand is on the system and moving off and onshore. CAVANAUGH: And we have Tom Cook on the line. Welcome to the show. COOK: Thanks for having me. CAVANAUGH: Eric just told us that there's sand breaks that may be disrupted by this dredging. What do surf breaks do, and why are you concerned about them? COOK: Well, there's a few different types of situations that cause surf breaks. One of the most familiar ones is called a beach break. And that's just a beach with a lot of sand, and eventually the sand organizes itself into sandbars that sit offshore. And when swells come from far off, they start to feel an abrupt change in the sandbar, a breaking wave will form there that's the most typical one. In San Diego, we're blessed with a bunch of these reef breaks. And these are a little bit different in that you have whatever geological process forming them, we have these rock referees that sit offshore. And they basically provide the same interruption that the sand bar will provide. But they tend to stay in the same spot a little bit longer. And when we started hearing about the sand going in, that's always one thing that we're concerned about. If they're going to put a lot of sand out in front of a reef break, if the sand comes off of that beach really quickly, it could fill in the holes around the reef and basically make the wave break all at once. CAVANAUGH: I see. So I understand that the surf rider foundation is going to be setting up cameras to monitor the way the whole area looks during and after this project. What are you going to be looking for? The way surfers actually use the waves or the way the waves break? COOK: Think we're actually looking at the surf quality. And we identified a number of parameters that mostly surfers would use to describe to other suffers, words like mooshy or hollow, or barrelling. These are words that when you talk to a surfer, they know exactly what you're talking about. When you're trying to quantify the impact or effect or even just describing surf quality, it gets a little bit difficult because you have -- every surfer has a different yet of what a perfect wave would be. CAVANAUGH: So a picture is worth a thousand mooshy words is what you're saying. [ LAUGHTER ] COOK: So we'll look at a ten-minute clip every day. And that'll give an idea of some general surf quality going on that day. They'll also count the number of surfers, what kind of board that they're riding, a stand-up paddle board or a regular surf board. And also fill out some of the qualities that theying see in the waves that day. CAVANAUGH: Cell bee, I understand that SANDAG is either to have this information, right? TUCKER: Yeah, we in the first beach sand project and with the second project have an extensive environmental monitoring program toed me all ever the mandates for this project, water quality, biology, noise, air. And is this a sort of new type of monitoring that can be done. And any time that somebody is going to collect data, it can be useful to anybody who uses the beaches. So this is something that we can all use. CAVANAUGH: When this was done 10 years ago, was there any indication that today did impact surfing? ANDERSON: When I talked to Tom about this earlier, he said that there was anecdotal evidence. People would come up to him and say, you know, the wave there just isn't what it used to be. So there was some anecdotal refineses to the impact. But nothing hard and scientific. And I think that's the real advantage of this project. You're going to have the before data, and you're going to have the after data. And you'll be able to quantify it. You'll be able to say this is what happened, this is what we measured. Maybe that change what is we do the next time we do the beach replenishment project. I believe there was a delay in the start of this project that may take it into our rainy season in December. Will that be a problem? TUCKER: Currently the project is scheduled to start this Friday with placement of material on the beach, and it should be done around the first day of December. And we plan to do the project during the summer. We believe that it will still have a wide range of benefits. There's storm projections before, and obviously the recreational and economic impact that I talked about before. So this'll be a good base for any kind of storms that come this winter. And the sand will move back on this summer. CAVANAUGH: So what are people actually going to see this week Eric? Big land moving vehicles? ANDERSON: Yeah. It's going to be great. The dredge is going to come relatively close to shore, hook up a very large pipe. Of it's going to pump this big human slurry of sand and water into these other big rusty metal pipes that are on the beach. It's going to come spewing out of there, and then you'll move it around to where it's supposed to go. And I think when they're done, where there's currently the riprap now, at the backend of the beach, it's going to be a high-level pile of sand. So much it's really going to change the face of how it looks on the beach as well.


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.

Corrected: April 2, 2023 at 5:48 AM PDT
Videographer Nicholas McVicker contributed to this story