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    After months of delays and decades of waiting, fluffy sand is being delivered in San Clemente
    • May 1, 2024

    Beachgoers who visit the San Clemente Pier area this summer should see some extra towel space on the sand.

    While the grains are a bit darker in color – sediment pulled from the bottom of the ocean off Surfside Beach about 30 miles away – the soft sand is a welcome sight for the coastal city grappling with severe erosion that has shrunk its beaches in recent years.

    The US Army Corps of Engineers-led sand replenishment project got underway again late last week after months of snags. including more rocks and cobble being initially dredged up than expected, causing the endeavor to be halted until a new source identified. It had taken decades of permitting and funding delays to even get the project approved.

    “We’re delighted to have them back and working again in San Clemente, the restart is a very good cause for celebration,” said Leslea Meyerhoff, San Clemente’s coastal administrator. “The sediment quality looks great.”

    Beachgoers and pier walkers this week stopped to take in the sight of a pipe spewing fresh sand onto the beach and tractors moving the grains around.

    Beverly Thompson, a Whittier resident who regularly vacations in San Clemente, said she’s noticed the sand space shrink in recent years, with more rocks dotting the beach than before.

    But she can’t help but wonder, she said, if the sand being piped in and spread out will actually stay.

    “I’m wondering if Mother Nature is going to take it back to the ocean,” she said, looking out at the newly built up beach. “I don’t know – is it going to work, or is it going to be a temporary fix?”

    Thompson happened to be standing near an expert on the issue, UC Irvine Civil Engineering Professor Brett Sanders, who researches the region’s sand erosion trends and troubles.

    New sand sits south of the pier and the old, rocky sand is on the north side during the first part of a sand replenishment project in San Clemente, CA, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    New sand sits south of the pier and the old, rocky sand is on the north side during the first part of a sand replenishment project in San Clemente, CA, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    New sand sits south of the pier and the old, rocky sand is on the north side during the first part of a sand replenishment project in San Clemente, CA, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Workers move around new sand south of the pier during the first part of a sand replenishment project in San Clemente, CA, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)



    “It will spread out across the coast,” explained Sanders, whose team has measured the coastline and studies wave action that moves sediment. “There will be times it gets pulled offshore. When there’s milder waves, it tends to push it back on shore. It will get dispersed around.”

    Looking out at the beach, Sanders explained the complex puzzle that has caused the region to see a dwindling sand supply.

    Typically, sand naturally comes down rivers and channels, but those have been concreted so that supply was cut off, he said. Inland development has also kept sediment upstream in place. Drought conditions in recent years has stopped sand that would naturally be washed downstream with storm water from being pushed to the coast and big swells in recent years have pulled sand away from the shore, he said.

    There has been some good news: the past two wet winters have brought sand downstream to help add some beach, but there still needs to be more effort to manage and add sand supply to the system, he said.

    Beaches are important not just for the region’s recreation and tourism, but as a critical buffer between infrastructure such as the rail line, he said.

    “We need to do a better job of actively managing the coast. We can’t just neglect the coast for 20 or 30 years and expect it to maintain itself, because we’ve cut off the main supply to the coast,” Sanders said. “We’ve armored the bluffs, we’ve built up the rivers and we don’t get the same supply of sand to the coast that nature would have provided in the past. There’s a role for us to maintain the beaches more actively.”

    As for the darker color of the delivered sand, the new sand will mix in with existing sand and even out in color. It’s a bit courser than the native material, which means it should stick around longer, Meyerhoff noted.

    The project is one of several ways the city is hoping to bolster its beaches. It recently joined SANDAG – the San Diego Association of Governments – to collaborate on efforts to bring sand into the region. It is also in the process of obtaining its permitting for opportunistic sand so it can expand beaches in areas not within the Army Corps project when material becomes available.

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    Options for sand replenishment in San Clemente still being discussed, delay could reach into summer

    National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Science Program Manager Trevor Meckley also showed up in San Clemente on a recent day to survey the work being done to replenish the beach.

    “It’s definitely one of the solutions in places like this that is clearly a heavily used beach. There’s no other option other than to put new sand there,” he said. “It sounds like Army Corps has made a commitment to doing this for a while.”

    What’s still unknown is how much more the project will ultimately cost both the Army Corps and the city due to delays and having to find a new sand source; estimates have put the total price tag at about $23.5 million, far greater than the original $16 million. The project is funded 65% by the federal government and 35% by the city and grants it has secured.

    “We are determining how we can lessen the financial impact to the city. An example of financing plans has been sent to the city for its consideration,” said Army Corps Chief of Public Affairs Dena O’Dell.

    While the project is again underway, only 92,000 cubic yards of the planned 251,000 cubic yards of sand anticipated for the project will be put in place during the 25 days remaining in the current window allowed for the work to be done, O’Dell said.

    The first phase will finish before Memorial Day, which as long as the dredger returns by fall to finish, has an upside, officials said.

    “It avoids the highest peak use of summer when people just want to be on the beach and enjoy, and not worry about sand placement activities conflicting with summer recreation,” Meyerhoff said.

    The replenishment is expected to be repeated every five years, for the next 50 years, though each round will need to secure federal funding.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, who represents southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, was glad the project was once again underway, he said.

    “After some delays, I’m glad to see the sand replenishment project back on track and on its way to completion. This took many partnerships that are working toward a wider, quality beach for all residents and visitors to enjoy,” he said in a statement. “Ultimately, this project, made possible by funding I secured, will restore our beaches and protect critical infrastructure like the LOSSAN Rail Corridor long into the future. I look forward to seeing our new, wider beaches in the months ahead.”

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    ​ Orange County Register