The ocean rumbled with such force the ground shook when the waves came crashing down. People standing too close to the water’s edge ran back, away from the rogue seawater as it pounded the shore and splashed upward toward the sky, water flooding into the Capistrano Beach parking lot.
Intrigued beachgoers showed up at sunset along the coast this week for a seaside show, marveling at Mother Nature’s raw force as a summer swell combined with high tides. But the spectacular sight was also a chance to see just how close the ocean’s reach is to endangered homes and infrastructure, and how a raging sea eats away at what’s left of Orange County’s coastline.
“You see this and it’s like, ‘This is cool and awesome,’” said Cheri Harl, who was down at Capistrano Beach in Dana Point on Thursday night with a few dozen others who showed up as word of big waves spread. “But no, it’s destroying those houses down there, destroying property, destroying the beach here. You can’t do anything about it.”
Typically, it’s the strong winter swells and king tides that cause worry. But this week, a strong summer swell coincided with the moon’s gravitational force to bring higher-than-normal tides – and that’s when, for a few hours each evening until the tides ease or the swell drops, beaches take a blow.
In Newport Beach, workers raced to build a beach berm by the Balboa Pier to keep the nearby parking lots and streets from flooding, as they did last year.
At Aliso Beach and at Capistrano Beach, the ocean breached what little sand exists and rushed into the parking lots, leaving a muddy mess for clean-up crews.
At Cotton’s Point in south San Clemente, the ocean slammed against the cliffs, water splashing onto train tracks that hug the coastline.
Up and down the coast, people’s yards and homes are pounded by the sea when the ocean shows its force as it did this week.
Many of the homeowners know to brace for the such events, which can happen several times a year, boarding up windows to keep the ocean outside of their homes. Drone footage showed artificial turf torn up and patio sets jostled in oceanfront yards.
“I think that these homeowners are in a really difficult situation because it’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse,” Donne Brownsey, vice chair of the California Coastal Commission, said.
Protecting property with seawalls or rock boulders isn’t always an option. In recent years, the Coastal Commission has cautioned against such measures because they can further exasperate erosion on public beaches.
Brownsey said the commission for the past five years has urged residents and local agencies to talk about design plans for today and the future, as sea levels continue to rise.
“Any conversation that happens, any decisions that are made are going to have consequences,” she said.
Many beaches are already experiencing what’s called a “coastal squeeze,” becoming more narrow as time goes by because high tides are getting even higher due to sea-level rise, Brownsey said.
Just last month, the state legislature approved $30 million over the next five years to provide assistance for local governments through a sea-level rise grant program to update planning tools, such as hazard, flood and geology maps, for their communities, she said.
“But also, we’re going give them straight-up money to hire the folks, or pay the folks for them, to update their plans, and we’re partners with them in this,” she said. “We’ll be with them every step of the way to help them make those tough decision.”
Days ago, the commission released the report “Critical Infrastructure at Risk: Sea Level Rise Planning Guidance for California’s Coastal Zone” aimed at providing local governments and other stakeholders with planning information as they make “challenging adaptation decisions.”
Locally, officials are trying to figure out the right solutions, the balance of saving infrastructure and giving way to nature. OC Parks, which manages Capistrano Beach, last week presented a plan to the California Coastal Commission to add cobblestone to the beach to try to protect what’s left at the small slice of sand, hoping to save a popular walkway and beach path that connect to the south end of Doheny State Beach, which is also being chomped away at by the sea.
While sea-level rise is often pointed at as the culprit destroying the precious coastline, the eroding and disappearing sand buffer is also a reason infrastructure is at risk, experts and long-time residents say.
“It’s so crazy,” said Tracy Fisher Stay, who since 1984 has lived by Cotton’s Point in San Clemente, where the seawater splashed onto passing trains Thursday night. “I’ve never seen the beach completely gone. Part of it disappeared last year and never recovered, but this is even worse.”
OC Lifeguards Chief Jason Young said big summer swells combining with a high tide isn’t unheard of this time of year, but the lack of sand is leading to the recent flooding of parking lots.
“The beach is quite eroded, so it’s narrow. As soon as the waves come up the steep part of the berm, it’s only about 10 feet in some areas before it’s on the sidewalk and parking lot,” he said of Aliso Beach.
City and county officials are waiting on word of federal funds from the Army Corps of Engineers that would provide millions of dollars to bring in more sand as a buffer from the sea at spots in both northern and southern Orange County.
At Capistrano Beach, the waves were big enough this week to move heavy concrete K-Rails. A chain-link fence blocked the parking lot, where water, rocks and sand covered the asphalt.
Harl cringed as a group of teens went beyond the fence and climbed up on a lifeguard chair, quickly learning it was a bad idea and scrambling down as waves slammed down and shook the structure.
For Harl, who drives from Mission Viejo to visit this beach, Capistrano Beach is a convenient place to park and access the shore with only a short walk. She noticed work done to reinforce the pathway with sand bags in recent weeks, only to be exposed and battered by this week’s storm.
“It’s already being destroyed,” she said, looking out to where a sandy beach once existed. “It amazes me the force of the water, the power behind it.”
Source: Orange County Register