A vote to nourish the region's beaches by placing additional sand to the north, at Oceanside, has been criticized by a leading expert on coastal erosion who says politicians made the wrong choice.
Alternative A of the Regional Beach Sand Project would have divided a replenishment of 2 million cubic yards of sand among Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, San Diego and Imperial Beach. This would have been the better choice for the region, according to Dr. Reinhard Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in a lecture at the Birch Aquarium on Sunday, Feb. 7.
But at a meeting on Feb. 3, Oceanside council opted for Alternative C, which will concentrate more than 1 million cubic yards of sand at Oceanside while only giving 700,000 cubic yards to Carlsbad, 118,000 to Impeerial Beach and 98,000 to Mission Beach, the idea being for the ocean to move it south over time.
Flick said although this alternative is understandably popular in Oceanside, it is "quite shortsighted" and the wrong choice for the region. He said he doubted anybody had properly modeled the supposed southern drift of sand from Oceanside to the other beaches.
"We cannot rely on the coastal processes to deliver sand where we need it from option C, this feeder-beach concept," he said.
All three alternatives were prepared for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) whose Senior Planner, Steve Sachs, defended the feeder-beach concept.
When you look at the historical record ... from 1989 back through a long time back, the net flow of sand ... between Oceanside and La Jolla was to the south," he said.
Flick disagrees. "Everybody gets fixated by this southern transport," he explained. "But what everybody forgets is that the southward flow is the difference between 600,000 cubic yards a year moving south and 400,000 cubic yards a year moving north.
"And that was probably before 1980. Today the balance is much closer. There is almost as much going north as going south."
Sachs said north and south flows have been balanced by recent weather patterns. "With the weather patterns lately there hasn't been such a strong southern push of sand, because there's been a lot of weather from the southwest in the summer and that's been balancing the wave energy that comes down from the northwest in the winter," he said. "So, lately, it's probably been more even than flowing south."
In any event, Flick agrees with the SANDAG committee that even if that sand was going to flow south, helping to build up beaches over time, it would be hardly noticeable.
"I know for a fact that a million yards would not be visible at Solana Beach or Del mar." he said. "That's been done before. They put a million yards of sand on the beach at Oceanside in 1982, just before that bad winter, and as far as I know nobody's ever detected that at any distance to the south."
But for Alternative C to happen, Oceanside would have to take all the sand allocated to the whole project from Oceanside to the Mexican border, and SANDAG's adivisory committee includes representatives from all the coastal cities.
"They are recommending alternative A despite the position of Oceanside," Sachs said.
The SANDAG board of directors is going to consider the recommendation at their meeting at the end of February. No sand will be put on the beaches before spring 2000, and before that can happen SANDAG has to take the project through the environmental and permitting process. This will involve six months to a year of getting approval from federal and state agencies, including the State Coastal Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"This debate we're going through now about where should the sand go and where should it come form is to give us a project definition to start going through this process, and ... we've tried to design this project so that it is an environmentally positive thing and won't get waylaid in permitting," Sachs said.