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Oceanside Residents Lobby For New Strategy To Save Disappearing Beach

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Many southern California beaches are gradually disappearing and communities on the coast are looking for ways to save their sand in Oceanside. A group of residents wants to build rock grinds or jetties to help stabilize the sand and stop it from washing away. KPBS reporter Alison Saint John says it's a controversial strategy

Speaker 2: 00:23 south of Oceanside peo parts of the beach have disappeared completely and waves wash up against a rocky wall of riprap that protects houses along this trend. Nick Ricky has lived in Oceanside for a decade and has seen the beach shrink. He speaks for a new group of residents called SOS Save Oceanside Sen.

Speaker 3: 00:41 Currently we're at Wisconsin speeds. If you look around Wisconsin Street, we have wide guard towers. Seven we have a beach parking lot with a beach bathrooms, but yet we don't have the beach now. Just three years ago at low tide you'd have some dry sand.

Speaker 2: 00:58 Not Anymore at some high types. There's another problem. The ocean sometimes washes right over the strand threatening homes

Speaker 4: 01:05 every year. The army corps of engineers lays long pipes down the beach and pumps San dredged from the mouth of Oceanside harbor. The Sen dredged helps keep the harbor mouth open and adds to the beach, but it does not last. Ricky and his neighbors and they are looking to other beaches like Newport beach for ideas.

Speaker 3: 01:22 You've never visited Newport beach. The beaches are wonderful surface dynamic. Newport beach

Speaker 4: 01:29 is wide and generous. Vicki says it wasn't always that way back in the late 1960s the ocean was threatening homes along that beach.

Speaker 3: 01:37 So as a result of that, the homeowners are the ones who spurred the city into action to build these Reutens hundred yards long, about eight to 12 feet tall, about 12 to 16 feet wide.

Speaker 4: 01:51 The groins are like rocky fingers that run under the beach and out into the ocean. The idea is to stabilize the sand and stop it from washing away. They've been there for 50 years and they appear to be working, but the Newport beach lifeguard say the jury is still out. They say the groins create problem rip currents. Bob goosy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in Ohio says groins and jetties have another major problem

Speaker 3: 02:17 building groins to retain sand at one location. Basically prevent Shan from getting down drift. So one beaches gang from growings is the next down drift beaches wash because they took their singer,

Speaker 2: 02:34 but Ricky says Oceanside would not be depriving cities to the south of sand if they built rock grinds because the army call would keep replenishing the sin every week.

Speaker 3: 02:42 Yeah. Our plan is very unique in that we believe that we will backfill those areas where the groins are with sand so that there'd be no stoppage of sand. Denham springs so to speak. Ricky

Speaker 4: 02:55 says surfers are in favor of trying grinds because they sometimes wave action cruiser acknowledges that surfers, the tourist industry and homeowners would probably support building grinds to stabilize beaches.

Speaker 3: 03:08 Building Groins can be definitely an effective way of stabilizing the beach at some locations. The question is whether it's cost effective, is it worth the money?

Speaker 4: 03:22 Boozer says the San Diego Association of governments or SANDAG spent $30 million on beach replenishment in 2012 and much of that sand washed elsewhere. He says beaches can be stabilized sometimes for decades, but not

Speaker 3: 03:35 definitely. We can't stabilize all of the beaches in southern California for the next, let's say hundred years. 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 and what it ultimately comes to the coast. The decisions are made by money, power, and the blow back from the coastal commission. That is the mouth of the people in California.

Speaker 2: 04:09 Rookie says, save ocean side side is getting estimates of what it would cost to build groins or jetties south of the pier and it's in the tens of millions of dollars. He acknowledges this as a challenge facing all San Diego's coastal cities. He says 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 southern California lifestyle.

Speaker 4: 04:32 Joining me as KPBS reporter Allison St John Alison, welcome. Glad to be here. Maureen, tell us more about the condition of the beach south of Oceanside pier.

Speaker 5: 04:42 Well, there's a part immediately assassins appeared. That's pretty generous because of the sand replenishment that happens every year. But that kind of diminishes as you go south of the peer until you come to a point where really there's no beach at all except a little bit of wet sand at low, low tide.

Speaker 4: 04:59 How has it changed so much in just a few years?

Speaker 5: 05:02 Well, this is part of the ongoing process of sand migration. Uh, the sand generally speaking migrates south along the coastline, especially in the winter. Sometimes it moves north, but gradually we have seen sand disappearing from all our beaches as a result of, uh, blocking the rivers that send sand down into the ocean and replenish the beaches and building walls along the cliffs so that none of the cliffs are, uh, collapsing and adding sand to the beach.

Speaker 4: 05:32 Is the absence of sand there causing any real environmental problem or is it mostly an aesthetic issue?

Speaker 5: 05:39 Well, it's not just aesthetic, Maureen. It is also, um, economic in the sense that not only other homeowners living there who, whose homes could be threatened, but, uh, Oceanside is investing is becoming a pretty strong family tourist destination. There are multistory hotel buildings going up right now, which have been years in the works and a lot of people coming to vacation, uh, in ocean side because partly of the beach. So if you have a beach, which a is gradually eroding, that could affect the future economy of the, of the city.

Speaker 1: 06:14 In your feature, you referenced that the Army Corps of Engineers Dredge sand out of the harbor to keep the harbor open. Where does that stand go?

Speaker 5: 06:24 It goes, it comes along the beach down south in long metal, a hollow pipes that they lay along the beach and it stretches down to just south of the pier. However it, uh, it's pretty obvious when you're looking down the beach from the pier that where that sand replenishment stops there is very little sand and that's where the beach is really receding fast.

Speaker 1: 06:47 Okay. So you told us about the jetties, the groins that they built up in Newport beach and they hold the sand in place, but how does it keep it there year after year?

Speaker 5: 06:56 Well, it's pretty much a sort of straight mechanical [inaudible] system whereby these fingers that stick out into the ocean, uh, hold the sand in place. Not entirely, but they definitely keep more sand within the groins than if they weren't any. Uh, we've seen there are various groins actually up and down the coast. Like for example, there's one near the Carlsbad power plant, which they were planning on removing because of changes to the Carlsbad power plant. But then there was some outcry because people realize that would affect the beach. There is a sort of a holding action, a stabilizing action, if you like, of those fingers reaching out from the beach into the ocean.

Speaker 1: 07:38 Now I remember when the SANDAG launched that sand replenishment program that you referenced back in 2012 were people saying at the time that that sand might just wash away.

Speaker 5: 07:51 Yes, indeed. I mean, that was what the experiment was really there to show was, is this effective? And I think the results are a bit inconclusive and, and open to interpretation. Um, some people, I know, some of the lifeguards and so on. The beach for example, said yes, yes, it definitely did help for a while and the sand moves though in very unpredictable and uncontrollable ways, so sometimes it ends up enriching a beach a year or two later. That was not the one that you put it on

Speaker 1: 08:19 now as climate change or sea level rise playing a part in the sand disappearing?

Speaker 5: 08:24 Well, I would say that the climate changes is impacting the coasts at the same time as the sand is being washed away and not being replaced. So it's not like sea level rise is affecting the disappearance of the sand, but it's having an effect on the coastline because as the zen disappears and the sea level rises, the coastline is obviously threatened. That includes roads, public works, you know, sewer systems, water systems and private property.

Speaker 1: 08:53 Considering the cost of building the jetties, they can't be built everywhere along the coast. As was referenced in your feature, the expert that you talked to says it's a political decision based on power, money and the coastal commission. Do you have any idea of where Oceanside's problem fits in that framework?

Speaker 5: 09:11 Well, I think that's the big question. Oceanside does have a big advantage in that the army corps of engineers is replenishing the sand currently every year as a result of um, legal settlements due to the fact that the federal government built the harbor back there partly for the marines and it has blocked the flow of sand. And as a result, they've, they are, uh, compelled to mitigate that by replenishing it. So Oceanside's in a position where it can say, look, we replenish the sand every year so it's not like we are going to be taking your sand. We will keep replenishing it. And as it's, as it gradually washes down in the excess, you will get the benefit of benefit of that. However, there have been studies done of, um, other cities and coastlines, especially in the east coast, that suggest that when it comes to making these difficult decisions as to who should get the millions, billions, in fact of dollars that are being spent on Sandra replenishment, it tends to be a, the more affluent communities because people are looking at what is the best bang for the buck. So you get these high end tourist destinations or places where property values are particularly high and they tend to win out in the competition for these dollars.

Speaker 1: 10:25 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, Alison St John Alison. Thank you.

Speaker 5: 10:30 Thank you, Maureen.

Speaker 6: 10:34 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.