San Clemente's Shrinking, Rocky Beaches: Officials Say No Solutions Soon

Until an Army Corps of Engineers project to rebuild the beach commences in San Clemente, beachgoers must put up with less towel real estate, city officials say.

Beachgoers will just have to tolerate rocky beaches and kelp flies for the rest of the season and probably until the .

City officials discussed the problems of beach erosion Tuesday in response to a request from to address complaints about the increased presence of piles of beach cobble that make for a rough time getting to and from the water, as well as reduce the space where beachgoers can spread their towels.

“I think we’ve all noticed our beach is wilting away slowly,” said Councilman Jim Evert. “This year, there seems to be an excess of stones.”

Dennis Reed, who heads up the division that oversees beach maintenance for the city, said moving the stones with equipment could accelerate erosion, exposing bare bedrock in some places.

“The beach cobble is a problem, but more of a symptom,” Reed said. “Cobble kind of serves the purpose of stability, though it has no attraction as a recreational surface. Trying to move the cobble from the beach is not the solution.”

Typical sandy beaches experience huge topographical changes from year to year, depending on tides and storms, but Reed said there has been a steady shrinking of the beaches on San Clemente’s coast over the past 10 years.

“Boy, we used to have a lot wider beaches than we do today,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers project, in which corps vessels would haul massive amounts of ocean floor material from a spot off the coast of San Diego County and use it to rebuild the beach in a 50-foot-wide swath from Linda Lane south to T-Street, is approaching an important milestone, city officials said.

The environmental document for the project is

The feds are obligated to make sure San Clemente’s beaches don’t wash away because it was the Corps of Engineers that turned the Santa Ana River into a concrete channel. Engineered to prevent flooding in urban areas, the channelization unintentionally robbed beaches of fresh supplies of sediment. 

City Manager George Scarborough said the target date to begin the project is 2013, but, “the corps hasn’t hit a date yet” in the replenishment project.

In the meantime, the city will continue digging sand and cobble to create berms that protect city facilities—such as bathrooms and the lifeguard station—leading up to winter storms and grooming the beaches the best they can in the spring, Reed said.

As for complaints about washed-up kelp and kelp flies, there is little the city can do about it. Reed said beach grooming machines pick kelp out of dry sand but can’t pull it out of the wet stuff.

Luckily, the kelp flies that are attracted to the detritus eat only kelp, meaning they are not a health problem, he said, though they may be a nuisance. Furthermore, they are an important food source for coastal birds.

Mr Salty August 18, 2011 at 02:13 PM
All the sand that was on our beaches is out in the ocean under twenty feet of water. What we really need is a couple huge mackin' south swells to push the sand back up on the beach. PRAY FOR SURF!
Adam Townsend August 18, 2011 at 04:03 PM
It's funny, Mr. Reed said at the council meeting that a while a go at Linda Lane, the surf brought in a nice layer of white sand that covered all the cobble. He started getting calls from residents telling him "Thanks for fixing the beach!"
Megan Silkman August 18, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Interesting article, I've always wondered about this rocks/erosion issue. Seems to be a cool solution.


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