ENCINITAS — Legislators are voicing their concerns over North County’s volatile bluffs, with Congressman Mike Levin and others urging the funding of a project that would bring more sand to beaches in Solana Beach and Encinitas.
The two neighboring North County cities and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been developing the Encinitas-Solana Beach Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project for 17 years, according to a press release published by Levin’s office on Aug. 21.
The project aims to bring a few million cubic yards of “compatible sediment” to the two cities’ beaches over a 50-year period — an effort meant to widen the distance between the fragile bluffs and the rising sea.
Although the cities are contributing their share of funding to the project’s Planning, Engineering & Design (PED) phase, federal funding is pending. The project was authorized by Congress in 2016.
In mid-August, Levin sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget’s Acting Director Russell Vought, urging him to approve $700,000 for the project’s first year, which would cover the remaining funding needed for the PED phase as well as a required economic update.
Levin was backed by Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein in his call to action, and the effort was most recently endorsed by State Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).
The request followed a similar letter Levin sent to the Army Corps in late July, urging Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite with the Army Corps to harness federal funding for the project. But his request took on greater urgency after an early August bluff collapse in Encinitas killed three local residents.
“It is long past time for the Administration to do its part to help stabilize our coastal bluffs and ensure that no further lives are needlessly lost,” he said in a recent statement. “This is not about tourism or recreation, this is about basic public safety …Ultimately, we also need robust action to address the climate crisis if we want to stem coastal erosion and protect infrastructure. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Bluff collapses in North County have been attributed to many causes, including groundwater irrigation. But sea level rise has remained the most controversial factor, with local jurisdictions and organizations butting heads over how to best protect beaches and bluffs from rising wave action.
Beach nourishment has become a common sea-level rise adaptation strategy for coastal cities.
The longstanding project would involve dredging sand from borrow sites in San Diego County and bringing it to the two neighboring cities in intervals.
In Encinitas, the effort would involve constructing a 50-foot-wide beach fill using 340,000 cubic yards of sediment, with an additional nine nourishment efforts every five years.
For Solana Beach, the beach fill would be 150 feet wide, and involve 700,000 cubic yards of compatible sediment. Four more nourishment efforts would occur every 10 years thereafter.
According to Levin’s spokesman, Eric Mee, the initial construction costs of the project are estimated at $30 million – which excludes future nourishments.
As stated by Levin’s letter, the purpose of the project is to “stabilize tall bluffs that erode due to high-energy storm swells, posing threats to life, safety, property and critical infrastructure including Southern California’s main passenger and freight rail corridor.”
Adam Young, a researcher at the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said that creating a wider beach can help prevent wave action from chipping away at the bluff’s surface.
“If you can reduce the wave energy at the bottom of the cliff, that should help slow down the future rate of cliff erosion,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that even if you were to stop the waves from hitting the cliffs, they’re still unstable, and they will still fail.”
According to Dena O’Dell, deputy chief of public affairs in the Army Corp’s L.A. District, the funding request for the project has been submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. The Army Corps now awaits Congress’s full fiscal 2020 appropriations, which will allow the Army Corps to allocate funding to projects included in its 2020 Work Plan.