Posted on December 6, 2023
The spigot is on, spitting sand dredged up from the ocean floor out through large pipes onto the Surfside beach where trucks then spread out the grains, growing the shrinking shoreline.
After years of waiting, some Orange County beaches are about to get much sandier.
Heavy machinery and equipment set up on the beach at Surfside in north Orange County have started in on a much-awaited replenishment project that will pipe in an estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of sand dredged offshore by ships.
It has been 14 years since the last project of its kind, an Army Corps of Engineers-led effort that dates back to the 1960s to mitigate for the impact to the beach created when harbors and storm channels were built. Shrinking beaches have allowed ocean water to threaten parking lots, streets and other infrastructure.
Though it was supposed to happen every five to seven years, federal funding delays had shelved the project since 2009. It received $23 million in the latest federal budget go around.
The ocean’s swells and currents are expected to help spread the sand grains toward the south, to deposit onto Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
Workers start a month-long sand replenishment project in Surfside Colony in Seal Beach, CA, on Monday, December 4, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Newport Beach, as part of this project, is also getting a shot of 100,000 cubic yards of sand, to be plucked from the Santa Ana River and placed between the rock groin jetties, which were built in the ’60s to protect homes against the battering sea.
That project also got underway last week, with orange netting set up where truck started hauling sand to be deposited.
Equipment has also been set up in San Clemente to prepare for a similar sand replenishment project two-decades in the making. That work, expected to begin early this month, will put an estimated 250,000 cubic yards worth of sand between T-Street and Linda Lane, enough to fill two football fields, in coming months.
That $14 million project will scoop sand up from offshore in Oceanside, to be hauled to San Clemente, then piped onto the beach. The pipes were recently put into place.
The needed influx of sand isn’t just for more towel space.
The shrinking beaches have alarmed residents, visitors and officials, who worry about not just the loss of recreation space, but for the sand buffer needed to keep infrastructure, roads and homes safe from the sea.
San Onofre State Beach has suffered in recent weeks during high tide and strong swell events. About ten parking spots have been lost, with caution tape warning beachgoers, and a post-surf shower’s concrete base fell down the eroded slope. (Photo by Laylan Connelly, SCNG/Orange County Register)
Beaches are also one of the most valuable draws for the region and the state’s tourism and economy.
While these project are getting some beaches more needed sand, other stretches of coast have already suffered from mega winter high tides in recent weeks.
At San Onofre, one of the region’s most popular surfing beaches, waves and tides have battered a section of beach near the entrance; caution tape now hangs where beachgoers used to park, with a loss of about 10 spaces, and a concrete slab that once held surfers up during their post-surf shower has slid down a slope.
A recent sand project that put 45,000 cubic yards of new beach down at Doheny State Beach and Capistrano Beach has seen some shrinkage in recent weeks.
“I think visually there has been some sand loss, but we haven’t been able to measure how much there has been,” State Parks Superintendent Scott Kibbey said.
Researchers from UC Irvine are doing an ongoing shoreline monitoring study to get data on the actual volumes and sand movements, he said.
“When there are the El Nino periods and weather patterns, it can be very damaging for beach loss,” Kibbey added. “It’s something we’re very concerned about. We would definitely like to have more science and monitoring of where the sand is going, that’s where the monitoring program is going to be valuable for us.”