Most states are doing a mediocre job – and some even a poor one – of managing shorelines and preparing for sea-level rise, according to a new study by the Surfrider Foundation.
California, on the other hand, is a “shining example” and has excelled in responding to changes along the coast, earning the only “A” grade in the nation — but the report found there are still areas that need improvement to preserve the state’s beaches for future generations.
The foundation, a San Clemente-based non-profit, each year releases its “State of the Beach” report, detailing how coastal states are faring at responding to issues such as coastal erosion and extreme weather events associated with climate change. The group warned that if officials ignore those issues, beaches could disappear.
“We have to get ahead of this and plan for this, come up with a plan to adapt,” Surfrider Foundation CEO Chad Nelsen said.
The goal of the annual assessment, which was released last week, is “empowering concerned citizens to advocate for stronger shoreline protection policies at the state and local levels,” the report said. It’s also intended to help decision makers and agencies create proactive, long-term solutions to better protect the coastline.
Each of the 31 U.S. states bordering an ocean or one of the Great Lakes, as well as Puerto Rico, were graded on their policies to protect the nation’s beaches from coastal erosion, sea level rise, and poorly planned development.
The report found 74% of the states, 23 out of 31, are doing a “mediocre to poor job of responding to coastal erosion and sea level rise planning, especially in areas that are most impacted by extreme weather events.”
As in past years, a noticeable trend highlights the fact that states most vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as destructive hurricanes, have inadequate policies and are therefore the least prepared to handle coastal erosion and increasing climate change impacts.
“Scientists predict these impacts will continue to grow, especially for coastal communities. Therefore, it is imperative that states and municipalities improve shoreline management practices by curtailing poorly planned development, planning for sea level rise, and investing in proactive, nature-based solutions,” Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Surfrider’s Coastal Preservation Manager, said in a news release.
The highest-scoring states had strong policies regarding sea level rise planning, building standards, coastal armoring and prohibitions against rebuilding in coastal hazard areas.
Only eight states are doing a “good or better” job – scoring an A or B – at protecting beaches, with California earning the report’s only A grade.
California’s 1,100-mile coastline has a variety of habitats and includes Marine Protected Areas to prevent overfishing or destruction along vulnerable areas of coast. In Southern California, those areas include Laguna Beach and parts of Palos Verdes.
Nelsen credited California Coastal Commission decision makers for policies addressing sea level rise and other ongoing issues like managed retreat, which means moving homes and infrastructure inland rather than altering the beach or fighting Mother Nature.
This year, the commission pushed to increase setbacks to guard infrastructure from future coastal erosion, and it is requiring communities to consider managed retreat, including potentially moving vulnerable train tracks, according to the report.
“One of the most common responses is shoreline armoring, revetments and seawalls – and that is destructive to our beaches,” Nelsen said. “We want to avoid that circumstance if we want our beaches in the future.”
The report found that California – thanks in part to the Coastal Act – has done more than most states to limit unnecessary development, reducing human impact along much of its coastline.
However, Nelson said, the state needs to improve at getting the Coastal Commission to issue permits when an area is deemed unsafe, which allows local agencies to place boulders that can help save eroded areas.
“You are rewarded if you ignore the problem until it’s a fear, then you apply for an emergency permit – there should be no such thing as an emergency, we know what’s coming,” Nelsen said. “Every emergency permit I’ve seen is predictable.”
Recent emergency fortification projects include areas of Malibu, San Onofre and Capistrano Beach, where constant erosion has chipped away at the beach.
Another issue the report recommends that California should better address is urbanization and building in the coastal watershed.
“We’ve cut off a lot of natural sediment along the coast. Coastal erosion would be less severe if sediment and sand was flowing to the ocean,” Nelsen said.
“We’re losing the bluffs and we’re losing the watershed, but that’s where all our sand comes from. We’ll see (erosion) anyhow because of sea-level rise, but that would reduce the speed at which that happens.”
Some areas in Southern California – such as Manhattan and Hermosa beaches in the South Bay, Long Beach and Huntington Beach – have wide, sandy beaches that aren’t as affected by coastal erosion.
Others, including Capistrano Beach in Dana Point, San Clemente, Laguna Beach, San Diego and Malibu, are constantly battling Mother Nature and trying to figure out how to save their beaches – and beachfront homes – from sand loss.
The state’s response to sea-level rise earned a “good” grade from Surfrider, partly due to the Coastal Commission’s insistence on proactive planning.
The commission “is requiring local communities to analyze extremely vulnerable homes and infrastructure,” and “made a bold move” in urging relocation of vulnerable train tracks in San Diego, the report said.
Nelsen said communities often address potential environmental threats only when a crisis such hits, but put off planning for long-term issues.
“We need to start now, before it’s too late,” he said. “The question is, how do we develop plans so that we can adapt and start thinking over the next several decades what we’re doing to do to get out of these situations.”
Source: Orange County Register