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Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 24, 1998


I should warn everybody that I am currently on a sand kick. Now, I don't know if this has to do with some deep seeded fear of sand, a deep seeded distrust of elected officials, a dying need to say "I told you so", or all of the above. One thing I do know is that everybody involved with the issue has elevated this political drama to Shakespearean levels.

Where instinct directs me to quote Edward Abbey, "Though men now possess the power to dominate and exploit every corner of the natural world, nothing in that fact implies that they have the right or the need to do so." I must say Shakespeare's Touchstone put it best when he said "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." The comedy of errors currently being enacted in regards to our coast line would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high.

Last week researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography came up with the groundbreaking revelation that waves actually push sand toward shore. Now, being a coastal resident I could have told you this without out spending a dime. Ask any coastal homeowner and they will tell you that winter waves strip our beaches of sand, and, ideally, spring tides put it back. I say ideally  because as long as natural processes are in place replenishment happens as a matter of fact.

"Where," you ask "does the sand come from?" One source, as stated by the recent Scripps study, are the massive sand dunes that sit offshore. Considering that our coast is a Depositional Coast, the main source should be inland sediments being transported down river to form our beaches. Once at the coast movement is provided by longshore drift and the longshore current. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a natural cycle.

Again you ask, "if this is a natural cycle why is there no sand on the beach?" Good question. I could answer it with words such as greed, indifference, or arrogance. Instead I will sum it up under the heading, Homo Sapiens. Yes, that is you and me. Now, being good little humans we naturally will try to shift blame away from ourselves. "I'm not responsible, this happened years ago" Sound familiar?  The current trend is to blame it on El Nino.

Reality check #437, by failing to restore natural systems we are perpetuating the environmental sins of our fathers. Please note I did not say restore our beaches. It is impossible to restore our once abundant beaches with superficial schemes that address only the symptoms and not the problems. SANDAG will soon hire a consultant to help decide what to do with $14 million set aside for beach restoration. My vote? Remove the jetties that are blocking the longshore current.

The reason I keep bringing up the southward movement of sand is because that is a major part of the sandy beach puzzle. No matter how much sand we place on our beaches, if it is not replaced by the longshore current we will never be able to keep sand on our beaches and our homes on the bluffs. The main perpetrators in this drama are the jetties that were built to help create the decidedly unnatural Oceanside Harbor and the jetty at Camp Pendleton's Del Mar Beach.

In a time of mucho sand loss, Del Mar Beach is the the only remaining example of what the San Diego Coastline looked like before development robbed us of our beaches. Other "developments" that are keeping sand from coastal North County are Interstate 5, Highway 101, and the railroad tracks. Looking inland, one discovers that the Henshaw dam is used to divert water to inland cities. Without water to carry sediments to the coast the sand just sits in the dry river bottom waiting for sand mining operations to turn it into cinderblocks and other tools of development.

Meanwhile, back at the study, a SANDAG beach expert believes that by dredging the sand from the offshore dunes we might be able to increase the "sand budget" along the littoral zone. Which in layman terms means the band of coast alternately covered and uncovered  by tidal action. Or in other words, the intertidal zone. To translate, the experts and our local governments want to spend millions in a fruitless effort trying to do what nature will do when left intact.

So as soon as our wise experts get a clue we can then recognize our past foolishness and correct it. It is only then that we can move forward. Otherwise we can continuing to rob Peter to pay Paul, harming everyone in the process.

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