Sand shortage: Officials call for replenishment program along 12-mile stretch of Orange County beaches

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Sand shortage at 3 OC beaches prompts calls for replenishment program
A year after high surf led to flooding on the Balboa Peninsula, a sand shortage has officials in three Orange County cities calling for a replenishment program to help stave off rising seawater.

In Newport Beach last summer, high surf caused the streets of the Balboa Peninsula to flood with seawater. While climate change and the rise in sea level could be to blame, another culprit is the lack of sand.

"If we had more sand, we would prevent the flooding, regardless of how high the sea eventually rises, but this is really a factor of the narrow width of the sand," said Newport Beach City Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach make up a 12-mile stretch that needs sand replenishment, more than 10 years after a program through the Army Corps of Engineers suddenly stopped. If it doesn't start back up again, this could be the new normal.

"It'll go from just being a recreational and environmental concern to a flooding and health and safety concern and I think we're pretty close to that tipping point," said Jim Merid, the Environmental Services Manager for Huntington Beach, who took a reporter up to Bluff Top Park where erosion is getting pretty bad.

"During high tide, the water actually encroaches all the way up to the edge of the cliffs here," he said. "If it continues to encroach along the blufftops, one of the things that it would threaten would be the parking lot right above it."

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The additional sand acts as a natural buffer, and it's been brought in by the Army Corps since 1964 in response to flood control channels, which prevent the process from happening naturally. ABC7 was told the federal government pays about 3/4 of the bill, while local governments pay the rest.

In a statement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District said the Surfside-Sunset Beach Nourishment project is important and continues to be considered for future funding.

"We are ready to implement the project should federal funding be appropriated for Stage 13, which would provide about 1.75 million cubic yards of sediment for the project," the statement said. "The estimated cost of the project is about $23 million, with a federal cost share of $15.5 million and a non-federal cost share of $7.63 million."

The Corps is working on a Newport Bay Harbor dredging program that will help with recreational and commercial boats. Some of the sediment removed from this project will be placed in the nearshore area along Balboa Beach, southeast of the Balboa Pier, which will benefit the beach on the peninsula.

"The Army Corps on its own initiative said we will make sure the sand gets replenished on the beaches continuously and then it stopped, so we just wanted to bring it back to the way it was," said Dixon.

"Without it, these are some of the consequences that we can expect and anticipate, and the little money that we put into the project can save millions of dollars in rehabilitation and also issues related to flooding and even the loss of life," said Merid.

The cities are hoping to draw state and federal attention to this issue, urging leaders to work together in hopes of getting the project to move forward as it has in years past. They say they're in contact with Rep. Michelle Steel to help facilitate.