Coastal Issues That Matter for 2013

Sea level has been rising cm/yr, based on meas...

Sea level has been rising cm/yr, based on measurements of sea level rise from 23 long tide gauge records in geologically stable environments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you only watched the presidential campaigns, it would have been hard to believe that we actually live on a changing planet. Due to the false “debate” over the causes and consequences of human-induced climate change (the entire “debate” is financed by retrograde energy companies), President Obama rarely even mentioned our need to address the critical problem of a changing climate that is fueling drought, super-storms (e.g. Sandy), sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

But during his victory speech President Obama made a statement that stunned environmentalists.

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” he said.

Hurricane Sandy was a game changer on building consensus that our quickly evolving climate cannot be ignored and that its impacts has very real consequences. So in anticipation of the road ahead for protecting our coast and ocean, here are the top issues we need to address in 2013 and beyond.

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Climate Change: Hurricane Sandy showed us the very real consequences of warming temperatures, sea-level rise and the rise of destructive super-storms. Surfrider Foundation activist Mark West argues that, “Since superstorm Sandy, I think two issues are critical: rising ocean temps from global warming and coastal restoration projects.”

What is clear is that addressing the causes and consequences of climate change has to be a top priority. In San Diego, cities such as Chula Vista have already embarked on climate adaptation planning (I was a member of the advisory committee) that should be a model for San Diego County and even nationally.

Changes in sea level during the last 9,000 years

Changes in sea level during the last 9,000 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

San Diego Foundation also coordinated a sea level rise adaptation strategy with the particpation of coastal cities and nonprofit organizations.

Ocean Acidification: While this is a consequence of human-induced climate change, the increase in carbon in our oceans is literally changing the chemistry of our oceans.

Ken Weiss recently reported on the issue of ocean acidification:

Rising acidity doesn’t just imperil the West Coast’s $110-million oyster industry. It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say. The world’s oceans have become 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution began more than two centuries ago. The ill effects of the changing chemistry only add to the oceans’ problems, which include warming temperatures and expanding low-oxygen “dead zones.” By the end of the century, said French biological oceanographer Jean-Pierre Gattuso, “The oceans will become hot, sour and breathless.”

Coastal Restoration: San Diego has always been a national and even global leader in coastal restoration efforts. But we need to do more in the way of restoring our wetlands, watersheds and natural dune systems in order to strengthen our natural defenses against sea level rise and help to sequester the increasing amounts of carbon in our atmosphere. Additionally, restoration projects can increase our access to open spaces and trial systems that keep us healthy as well as protect fish and wildlife populations.

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Sand Replenishment: For Oceanside surfer Rick Hahn, our biggest coastal issue is, “The consequences of constructing civilization in extreme proximity to our beaches, bays and waterways.” In many cases government agencies have only come up with one solution to that problem—dumping huge amounts of expensive sand on our coastline, often prioritizing the wealthiest coastal communities due to their capacity to hire expensive and well-connected sand lobbyists to game the system. However, what we saw with Sandy’s storm surge was the futility of spending billions of dollars on wasteful and largely pork-barrel sand replenishment projects. We need to rethink these projects so that they are smaller, more strategic and less costly.

This is especially the case in Southern California where the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to dump sand on small patches of beachfront in Solana Beach, Encinitas and San Clemente. SANDAG planners also need to evaluate their current project in order to identify ways to reduce impacts to critical reefs and design future projects in a way that enhances rather than destroys surfing areas. We need a national debate on the most effective ways of preserving our beaches while maintaining our fiscal health.

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthr...

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthropogenic CO 2 between the 1700s and the 1990s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marine Protected Areas: With the enactment of a new system of state marine protected areas (MPAs)throughout our coastline, California has become a global leader in strategically preserving our most critical coastal and marine ecosystems. There is no better way to cost-effectively preserve our finfish populations than investing in the conservation of their spawning grounds. It is important to help to restore our new MPAs in order to bring back our commercially valuable fish and shellfish populations and preserve our treasures of the sea.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

Coastal Pollution: We have to continue reducing the flow of polluted runoff and plastic from our watersheds into the ocean so that we don’t have to worry about getting sick when we play in the ocean. Watershed and wetland restoration help in this effort, but it is everyone’s job to Think Blue.

There are a host of other critical issues including seismic testing, oil drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, preserving endangered marine wildlife such as sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles, and the expansion of offshore drilling.

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Hurricane Sandy, Climate Change and Sand Replenishment

As I watch the news reports of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, I think of the south county coastal area where I live and surf.

Imperial Beach is a low-lying coastal city connected to Coronado by a thin strip of sand. Any storm with a potent tidal surge would immediately obliterate the homes, dunes and streets of my coastal backyard.

Understanding the the impact of Sandy on the beaches, barrier islands and cities of the East Coast is critical for the residents of Southern California in order to evaluate the costly efforts to preserve local beaches.

Now that SANDAG is finishing up its $28 million regional sand replenishment project, we need to ask if having government agencies continue to spend billions of dollars nationally dumping sand on our beaches to forestall the inevitable reduction in size due to man-made erosion, violent storms and sea level rise, is really worth it.

That is especially true in light of new proposals by the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $261 million on sand projects just for Encinitas, Solana Beach and San Clemente.

Beach replenishment and beach nourishment are euphemisms for what are really beach dredge and fill that turns the beach into an industrial site during construction,” said Surfider Foundation Environmental Director Chad Nelsen. “They should be designed to minimize impacts to nearshore reefs that are important recreational (surfing, diving, etc.)  and ecological resources.”

Terry Gibson, a longtime surfer and fisherman from Florida who is the Senior Editor of Fly & Light Tackle Angler, has spent a considerable amount of effort evaluating the impacts of badly managed sand replenishment projects on the East Coast.

“Near shore reefs or other types of essential fish habitat are typically buried or silted over, without adequate much less kind-for-kind mitigation,” he said.

According to Gibson, “Chronic turbidity is often a problem. The entire slope of the near shore environment typically changes so that wave quality from a surfer’s perspective is degraded or destroyed. And you often lose the qualities that make a beach attractive to sea turtles, not to mention the impacts to the invertebrates that live in the beach and are a requisite forage source for fish and birds.”

The San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is currently monitoring the impacts to surf throughout San Diego from the current SANDAG regional effort via video monitoring. In Imperial Beach the SANDAG project has shut down the surf for about 75 percent of our beachfront.

“At IB we’ve been seeing a trend towards decreasing surfer counts and decreasing ride length,” said Tom Cook of San Diego Surfrider.

According to Julia Chunn of San Diego Surfrider, “We hope that video-based monitoring, similar to our current Surf Monitoring Study, will be required of all large beach nourishment project in the future.”

For this reason, it is my view that the current SANDAG project is preferable to the incredibly expensive projects the Army Corps has slated for Solana Beach, Encinitas and San Clemente. Those proposed federal projects come with a price tag that in light of the cost of Sandy’s storm damage and federal fiscal woes, seems obscene.

Additionally, the federal project planned for Solana Beach-Encinitas, that in the long-term is designed only to protect 300 feet of beach, would involve more than double the amount of sand SANDAG deposited on beaches throughout the entire county. These Army Corps projects are relics of the past that do not reflect our climate-contorted and fiscally prudent future.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Clearly we are going to have be smarter and more resourceful with our tax dollars when it comes to conserving our beaches. The process works best when all stakeholders as well as scientists can come to the table with local agencies and evaluate the most cost effective and sensible solutions to coastal erosion, rather than when Army Corps push through massive dredge and fill projects with little public oversight and accountability.

“These projects should be considered temporary solutions that buy us time to find sustainable long term solutions to our coastal erosion problems because they are expensive, short lived and will not be sustainable in the face of sea level rise,” said Nelsen.

Beaches, Sand and Money

Photo: Chris Patterson

As I watch shorebreak bombs explode at the Quiksilver Pro Francevia webcast, one thing that stands out besides the crazy hollow shorebreak is the brown large grain sand local beaches are made of.

The beaches and sandbars of southwest France, that result some of the world’s best beach breaks for surfing, are filled with large grain brown sand that flows out of the estuaries and rivers of the region.

Because much of the coastal zone along the southwestern coast of France remains free of development, with extensive barrier dunes still in place, the beaches aren’t subject to the same process of erosion as our beaches are (but there is extensive erosion in coastal cities there).

Imperial Beach, Sept. 25th,Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

In San Diego in contrast we have channelized and dammed our rivers and thrown up rocks, seawalls and structures along most of our coast.

In short we have done everything possible to obstruct natural sand flow and enhance the non-stop cycle of beach erosion.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the prescription for our own coastal erosion mess in Southern California was for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a historically inept and mismanaged agency, to build large jetties along the shoreline and even more destructive breakwaters.

Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

Later the Army Corps carried out massive dredge and fill projects to replace lost sand. In 1977 the Army Corps dumped massive amounts of toxic sediment and sludge from San Diego Bay on the beach in Imperial Beach.

Later the City of Imperial Beach and the Army Corps proposed the construction of a mile-long rock breakwater. Thanks to local surfers and the then fledgling Surfrider Foundation, we stopped that crazy scheme just as the Corps was ready to dump the rocks in the ocean.

More recently the Army Corps in partnership with the City of Imperial Beach, once again dredged the most toxic and  garbage ridden sites in San Diego Bay and dumped the garbage, rocks, and rebar in Imperial Beach along with toxic sediment.

This boy was almost impaled by this piece of metal left on the beach by the Army Corps of Engineers in Imperial Beach. Photo: Daren Johnson

A few years ago WiLDCOAST worked with Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama Administration a few years ago to stop a planed $50 million projectslated for Imperial Beach that proposed dredging an area near a sewage outfall pipe and WWI aerial bombing range. That project involved no public consultation, the involvement of secretive and highly paid sand lobbyists and PR films, millions spent on badly written environmental documents, and no effort to work with the public and or use clean sand.

So dredge and fill projects have largely been a mess in San Diego County. However, of all the projects that have been carried out those managed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) have been managed in the most sensible way.

The 2001 regional beach replenishment effort by SANDAG resulted in the deposition of clean high quality large grain sand, extensive public consultation, and the involvement of locally-based project managers who work with local stakeholders—something the Army Corps of Engineers has no interest in doing.

On Thursday, SANDAG will finish up its sand replenishment operations for Imperial Beach after having placed more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. The project is massive and has been well managed. For many surfers and beachgoers the current sand project has been a field course in coastal geomorphology and engineering.

After finishing in Imperial Beach this week, SANDAG moves the project to Oceanside, Moonlight Beach, Cardiff State Beach, Batiquitos, and North and South Carlsbad. In total SANDAG will place more than 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on county beaches.

Photo Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

In Imperial Beach the new sand has temporarily wiped out rideable surf over much of the beach (note to surfers—don’t waste your time coming down to IB—the entire beach is a closed out shorebreak), but I expect the sand to level out over the next few months.

As the project moves to Oceanside and the rest of North County, it will be critical for surfers and other stakeholders to monitor the project and evaluate its impacts.

As a surfer, coastal conservationist, and dedicated beachgoer, I know that having a local agency like SANDAG carry out these projects is a million times more preferable to having ecological and economic coastal disasters foisted upon us by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Photo: Chris Patterson

Imperial Beach Sand Project 2012 Day 1

Pipes on the beach for the SANDAG sand project in Imperial Beach.

SANDAG has stared a local sand replenishment projects. WiLDCOAST supported this project as an alternative to a long list of horrific projects that deposited toxic sediment, rocks, garbage, metal and glass on our beaches under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hopefully this project will be a bit better.

Here is a summery of the history of local sand projects:

The history of Imperial Beach is rife with a parade of badly executed “beach replenishment” projects that have failed to actually do much to protect our coastline. The problem of our receding shoreline is the result of the combination of sea level rise, the construction of the Rodriguez Dam and the armoring of our coast.

Here is a brief history of the mostly unsuccessful and fatally flawed sand projects carried out by federal agencies at the urging of the city of Imperial Beach. Only one agency, SANDAG, has been able to carry out a successful beach project—primarily due to its commitment to using clean, large-grain sand for its projects.

1976-77: The most toxic areas of South San Diego Bay are dredged and the spoils are dumped on Imperial Beach, killing benthic life (e.g., sand crabs) for more than a decade. Local surfers still tell stories about the skin rashes they received from contact with the filthy sediment.

1977-84: The Army Corps of Engineers attempts to build a mile-long breakwater in Imperial Beach. The fledgling Surfrider Foundation and local surfer Jim Knox stop the project at the last minute. The breakwater would have forever destroyed surfing and wave action in most of Imperial Beach.

2001: SANDAG carries out a project with clean sand, which helps to create great sandbars for surfing and clearly increases the size of our beach.

2004: Army Corps dredges area near the Bay Bridge. Barges then dump toxic sediment in the surf zone including thousands of rocks and pieces of garbage, dangerous rebar and metal onto the beach and in the surf zone. Surfers call the dump area “Toxics.” One child is almost impaled by a piece of rebar that is hidden in the surf zone. The city initially denies that the garbage and rocks are from the project. No measurable benefit to beach.

2007: Army Corps permits the dredging of a toxic hot spot in San Diego Bay’s Shelter Island. Dredge spoils are dumped with no notice to Imperial Beach residents. Barge is initially turned away by Imperial Beach lifeguards. The barge subsequently works in the middle of the night to avoid public scrutiny. No measurable benefit to beach.

2009: Starting in 2000, Army Corps and the city of Imperial Beach plan a $75 million long-term project involving dredging an area near the border sewage outfall pipe that was used as a World War I gunnery and bombing area. WiLDCOAST, Imperial Beach surfers, the Surfrider Foundation, Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama White House kill the project that the city of Imperial Beach spent more than $250,000 lobbying for.

2010: SANDAG once again proposes “best practices” sand project to be carried out in 2012 involving clean large grain sand. The agency works extensively with local surfers and stakeholders to plan the project.

Toxic Barge

Between storms I was out surfing yesterday in Imperial Beach. Luckily it had not rained much on Wednesday, so the water was crystal clear, there were only a few of us out, and the waves were fun.

While I was in the water, the toxic barge arrived with a load of sediment dredged up from San Diego Bay laced with heavy metals and PCBs to be dumped just offshore.

Toxic barge arrives in Imperial Beach with sand laced with PCBs and heavy metals. Glad the ocean is a garbage dump. Photo: Alan Jackson

Me catching a few waves in between watching the toxic barge. Photo Alan Jackson

Alex and I discussing the toxic dump. I've surfed with him since 1977. He is out every morning by the pier. Photo: Alan Jackson

Riding my relatively new 6'6" Quad shaped by Jay Novak of Novak Surf Designs. Photo: Alan Jackson

Got Sand? A Brief History of Sand Projects in Imperial Beach

A boy who was almost impaled by metal dumped on Imperial Beach in 2004.

Sometime this week the Scows DS5, Harold M and Clarence D and tugs Katha C and Killeen will transport barges filled with 33,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged up from the Ballast Point Coast Guard Station in San Diego Bay by the vessel DB Palomar.

 

Rather than dump the dredge spoils that contain cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls  (PCBs) at an existing dumpsite off of Point Loma, the toxic sediment will be placed just offshore from the terminus of Imperial Beach Boulevard in Imperial Beach. The placement of this toxic material will be carried out with the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Imperial Beach.

The history of Imperial Beach is rife with a parade of badly executed “beach replenishment” projects that have failed to actually do much to protect our coastline. The problem of our receding shoreline is the result of the combination of sea level rise, the construction of the Rodriguez Dam, and the armoring of our coast.

Here is a brief history of the mostly unsuccessful and fatally flawed sand projects carried out by federal agencies at the urging of the City of Imperial Beach. Only one agency, SANDAG has been able to carry out a successful beach project—primarily due to its commitment to using clean large grain sand for its projects.

1976-77: The most toxic areas of South San Diego Bay are dredged and the spoils are dumped on Imperial Beach killing benthic life (e.g. sand crabs) for more than a decade. Local surfers still tell stories about the skin rashes they received from contact with the filthy sediment.

1977-1984: The Army Corps attempts to build a mile-long breakwater in Imperial Beach. The fledgling Surfrider Foundation and local surfer Jim Knox stop the project at the last minute. The breakwater would have forever destroyed surfing and wave action in most of Imperial Beach.

2000-2009: Army Corps and the City of Imperial Beach plan a $75 million long-term project involving dredging an area near the border sewage outfall pipe that was used as a WWI gunnery and bombing area. WiLDCOAST, Imperial Beach surfers, the Surfrider Foundation, Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama White House kill the project that the City of Imperial Beach spent more than $250,000 lobbying for.

2001: SANDAG carries out a project with clean sand, which helps to create great sandbars for surfing and clearly increases the size of our beach.

2004: Army Corps dredges area near the Bay Bridge. Barges then dump toxic sediment in the surf zone including thousands of rocks and pieces of garbage, dangerous rebar and metal onto beach and in surf zone. Surfers call the dump area “Toxics”. One child is almost impaled by a piece of rebar that is hidden in the surf zone. The City initially denies that the garbage and rocks are from the project. No measurable benefit to beach.

On of the thousands of shell/rock conglomerate dumped on Imperial Beach in 2004. These can still be found all over the beach.

2007: Army Corps permits the dredging of a toxic hot spot in San Diego Bay’s Shelter Island. Dredge spoils are dumped with no notice to Imperial Beach residents. Barge is initially turned away by Imperial Beach Lifeguards. The barge subsequently works in the middle of the night to avoid public scrutiny. No measurable benefit to beach.

2010: SANDAG once again proposes “best practices” sand project to be carried out in 2012 involving clean large grain sand. The agency works extensively with local surfers and stakeholders to plan the project.

Rather than focus on a coastal zone management plan that proactively seeks to enhance our coastline by addressing sea level rise, ocean pollution and beach management, unfortunately the City of Imperial Beach continues to seeks the placement of any type of “sand” on our beach, regardless of the potential threats to our children.

It will be important for the community to monitor the current project to identify any impacts and threats to public safety. In a communication on Tuesday with the EPA I wrote that, “Unfortunately during all of the San Diego Bay projects in which dirty and toxic sediment is dumped on our beach—federal agencies have either not informed local agencies at all, or involved almost minimal notification or no stakeholder involvement at all. These are examples of the worst type of coastal zone management practices.”

People go to the beach to swim in clean water.  The City of Imperial Beach should focus on reducing ocean pollution—the main deterrent to tourism—rather than  placing toxic sediment on our beaches in a misguided attempt to promote economic development.

See you in the water.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

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