Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager at Surfrider Foundation
The Save Capo Beach campaign, championed by Councilman Joe Muller, is advocating in vain for beefing up the existing rock revetment to protect Capistrano Beach Park from erosion. No amount of rock revetment will save the beach.
Revetments and seawalls, by definition, do not protect beaches. On the contrary, they protect structures and coastal development at the cost of the beach.
According to Stanford University’s California Coastal Armoring Report in 2015, “Armoring structures limit beach access and impede various forms of coastal recreation.” Impacts are intensified “as the beach narrows due to erosion and the impoundment of sand behind the armoring structure.”
In addition, sea levels are rising across the globe and in California. New estimates show that sea level rise is expected to hit the Golden State hard, with levels rising by an average of six inches, and possibly up to one foot by 2030.
Our knee-jerk response to coastal erosion and rising sea levels is to armor the coastline with sea walls, rock piles and other obstacles. We see this done by individual coastal homeowners who build structures to keep the water away from their properties. But it also occurs on an institutional level, with cities and other government agencies armoring longer stretches of beach at a time.
Locally, this drama is playing out at Capo Beach as we grapple with how to protect it from erosion, exacerbated by the channelization of the San Juan Creek and the construction of Dana Point Harbor, which caused sediments to stop flowing and cut off the source of natural replenishment to the beach.
In the face of sea level rise and coastal erosion, Capo Beach has three choices to respond:
- Armor the coast to save property—a public restroom and a basketball court. Downside: The beach will be destroyed and public access lost.
- Use beach fill to temporarily save the beach. Downside: Expensive and likely to harm marine ecosystem, damage surf and be washed away during the next storm event.
- Employ managed retreat to save the beach, protect the surf and coastal access. Downside: It is politically challenging and requires initial financial investment.
Managed retreat is the most effective long-term solution to preserve coastal access and recreational opportunities at Capo Beach. However, this may be more expensive initially and require significant political and community support. Still, Orange County’s regional parks agency, OC Parks, would certainly not be pioneers by employing managed retreat. Several real world examples prove its efficacy and dispel any suspected euphemism for damning public access. Just look to successful examples at Pacifica State Beach in Pacifica or Surfer’s Point in Ventura.
OC Parks is facing a very tough choice—one that many, if not most, coastal communities are or will be facing in the near future. In preparation, the California Coastal Commission developed robust sea level rise policy guidance and the state has invested millions of taxpayer dollars into helping local jurisdictions update their local coastal programs (LCP) to plan for sea level rise—precisely to avoid poor planning decisions that hastily rely on coastal armoring and risk valuable public resources. In fact, the city of Dana Point received $135,000 in state funding in 2016 and is expected to release complete their LCP update in 2018.
At this point, OC Parks, local property owners and the public should come together to understand the consequences of short term choices while also developing long terms plans as sea level continues to rise and coastal erosion challenges become more severe.
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