Posted on March 1, 2023
San Clemente is ramping up efforts to find sand solutions for its quickly eroding beaches, an ongoing problem threatening the coastal town’s valuable resource and recreation space.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a project 20 years in the planning gearing up in San Clemente, with work expected to start this fall to add 250,000 cubic yards of sand between Linda Lane and T-Street beaches.
But there is another 4.5 miles of San Clemente coastline that continues to shrink and that’s what a new council subcommittee created this month, to which councilmembers Victor Cabral and Mark Enmeier were appointed, will be looking at with other stakeholders, such as community members and the advocacy group Save Our Beaches SC.
At the same time, San Clemente’s Beaches, Park and Recreation Committee held this week the first of several public outreach meetings to discuss the city’s Nature Based Coastal Resiliency Project Feasibility Study, which will identify critical beach erosion hot spots and solutions to address short-term and long-term coastal erosion.
Supervisory Coastal Scientist Chris Webb, part of the Moffatt & Nichol consultant team hired by the city last year to do the study, showed a presentation highlighting trouble areas. He clicked through images of ocean waves splashing a passing train where now the railroad is closed for repairs to the shifting track; of the sand-depleted North Beach area; and of the city’s lifeguard headquarters threatened by the rising sea.
“We want San Clemente to have a beach for as long as possible,” Webb said. The first goal is to advance shoreline protection and the second is to have a process that is stakeholder driven and backed by science, engineering and science.
There will be several ideas explored, including near-shore and offshore reefs, beach nourishment and living shorelines behind the beach, he said. Consultants will also look at nearby Trestles and the cobblestone reefs that helps sustain the sand, and whether those conditions can be replicated further north in San Clemente.
“There’s a gold mine of information right there, just down south,” Webb said. “Maybe that can be mimicked on a smaller scale somewhere else.”
Webb said San Clemente is not alone in its sand problems and suggested officials collaborate with other cities and the county to forge partnerships so they can have a stronger stakeholder push going to the state seeking funding.
Webb’s team will be interviewing long-time residents and asking citizen scientists for input, he said.
“We’re looking at things like the condition of the beach, what’s behind the beach that’s vulnerable to being attacked by waves and water during extreme conditions and what you can do to fend off the beach at those locations,” he said.
They will also explore funding opportunities and will also include a study on beach economics, breaking down how much sand means to the town’s tourism, businesses and other quantifiable benefits.
“We are accountable for the environmental and economic business of our city, and our beaches bring in a lot of that money that makes our beach as vital as it is,” said Susan Ambrose, who was chairperson of the former Coastal Advisory Committee that was folded into the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission a few years ago, about why it will be important to identify which beaches need to be a priority.
City staffers have also been told to coordinate with their counterparts in Oceanside, which has already taken steps to dredge sand and has successfully gone through the California Coastal Commission and other permitting processes.
Mayor Chris Duncan said forging an alliance with Oceanside is key.
“We have to have a plan to retain the sand,” he said. “But we also have to have a plan to replenish the sand, because the best barrier is sand.”
But also, another exploration of the study will happen offshore to find new sites to borrow sand between Dana Point and Camp Pendleton, closer than Oceanside, which could cut costs. Bringing in sand using a rail system might also be explored, Webb said.
Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jorine Campopiano said the discussions are exciting news for the city. Whether sand is brought in by train or from a new offshore dredging site, it’s important to bring sand in as soon as possible, she said.
“Sand retention is something our city needs to focus on and is one critical piece to solving our beach erosion issues,” she said.
The final feasibility report should be done by June 2025, with preliminary designs available to be viewed by the public by the end of this year.