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    San Clemente’s sand erosion study shows ‘critical’ beaches
    • July 13, 2023

    Not all beaches in San Clemente are equal.

    Some are so sand starved they are considered in critical condition, at risk of being reclaimed by the ocean. Meanwhile, other stretches of San Clemente’s coast seem stable, or even growing, with ample sandy space for beachgoers.

    The beach town recently released a report, titled “Critical Erosion Hot Spots,” that aims to identify the most-troubled areas and find solutions to address short-term and long-term coastal erosion. The report, part of the city’s Nature Based Resiliency Project Feasibility Study, notes that erosion already is threatening infrastructure in some areas and limiting opportunities for coastal access and recreation.

    Jorine Campopiano, who recently served on the Beaches Park and Recreation Commission and spent five years on the city’s Coastal Advisory Committee, said the study is important to better understand the areas most vulnerable to erosion, and to help planners pinpoint where to direct the city’s restoration efforts.

    “To date, we haven’t had any sort of ranking on the eroded state of our beaches so this study is an important milestone, helping us gain a better picture of what is happening along our shoreline so the city can make more informed decisions in the future,” said Campopiano in an e-mail.

    Some of Orange County’s most popular beaches are disappearing as waves swallow up the sand. Above, North Beach during high tide in San Clemente, CA, (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The loss of sand along the city’s shoreline is concentrated in “erosional hotspots,” while other areas are relatively stable or are even accreting sand, according to the report, which was written by consulting firm Moffatt & Nichol. The city hopes to develop coastal resiliency solutions aimed at reducing erosion where needed, and to stabilize and widen beaches by using nature-based or ‘green’ pilot projects as a first priority, according to the report.

    The width of the shoreline varies throughout San Clemente. Some areas are significantly wider than others and the narrowest stretches have nearly no beach at all during mid-to-high tides.

    Also, this year, a series of storms battered the coast, leaving the ocean-front rail line vulnerable and, for several months, inoperable.

    City officials in recent years have focused on the dire sand situation — which could hurt the coastal economy — by conducting studies, creating an erosion-focused subcommittee, and trying to find creative solutions to keep local beaches sandy.

    Related links

    San Clemente launches outreach, new subcommittee looking at sand erosion issues
    New film puts spotlight on San Clemente’s disappearing beaches
    Can Southern California save its disappearing beaches?  
    San Clemente prepares for wave of beach changes with sea-level rise, erosion

    Last year, after a 15-year hiatus, the city re-established its Beach Monitoring Program. The first survey was conducted in October 2022 and will be done twice a year through 2025 by Coastal Frontiers Corporation.

    At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on a massive, $15-million sand replenishment program. That project, scheduled to start next year and repeated periodically over the next five decades, will fill in 250,000 cubic yards of sand between T-Street, around the pier, and north to Linda Lane.

    According to the report, erosion is primarily concentrated at the southern city boundary and north of San Clemente Pier at Mariposa Point, Capistrano Shores, and Shorecliffs.

    That “critical” beach on the south end of town is just down the cliff from the private community Cyprus Shores, which in recent years has lost its beach. It’s the area where the railroad was battered by waves and where waves undermined the toe of the bluffs, triggering a landslide.

    The study shows that area has lost about 5.5 feet of sand a year since 2001 and it is considered the most critically eroded portion of the city’s shoreline.

    The Orange County Transit Authority has constructed a slope stabilization project to try and stabilize the hillside and placed boulders on the beachside to try and stop the wave action.

    “While a steadily decreasing trend in the width of this beach has been recorded over the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic drop off or complete disappearance of the majority of the subaerial beach over the past five to eight years,” the report reads.

    Another severely eroded sections of coast is the Shorecliffs area on the north end of the city. That area has been eroding at an average of 1.5 feet a year since 2001.

    “Along the northern half of the reach, the Shorecliffs Beach Club and amenities have suffered from increased narrowing of the shoreline fronting the property,” the report reads, noting that the vegetated dune system on the south end of Shorecliffs beach is retreating.

    Mariposa beach also was identified as a “critical” area, which results in the restriction of beachside emergency access for lifeguard vehicles, reduced use of multiple pedestrian coastal access points, and a complete loss of beach along most of the area, according to the study.

    Suzie Whitelaw, a geologist with the community activist group Save Our Beaches San Clemente, said the study clearly shows how the north and south ends of the town have almost completely eroded away.

    The group has been communicating with the county’s public works department to rebuild the area with sand from the Santa Ana River, much like the county project happening just north at Capistrano Beach and Doheny State Beach, an area also suffering from severe erosion.

    The first truckloads of sand are unloaded and compacted at Capo Beach in Dana Point, CA on Thursday, June 15, 2023. The sand replenishment project is being done between Capo Beach and south Doheny State Beach. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    “There is plenty of sand available, we just need to get our permits in place,” she said. “I rode my bike along the Santa Ana River Channel, and there’s about a mile of sand, piled 30 feet high, that needs to go before the El Niño storms hit.”

    Another point in the study: erosion and lack of sand is hurting wave quality at most surf spots throughout city, and recreational loss appears to correspond with the lack of beach along the coastline over the past five-to-10 years.

    Campopiano also noted the report shows the T-Street surfing reef acts as a sand retention structure and helps stabilize the sand in that location. A potential nature-based solution could be to mimic the T-Street surfing reef in another location, she noted.

    Campopiano said the study is important to better understand the areas that are the most vulnerable to erosion, as well as to help the city better focus where to direct their restoration efforts.

    “This study reports that the northern and southern ends of our town are critically eroded while our middle city and state beaches are more stable,” Campopiano wrote in an email response. “So the northern and southern beaches probably need more attention, at the minimum more sand, and would likely benefit from a nature-based, sand-retention solution.”

    ​ Orange County Register