California beach running? Better do it while you can

With each passing year, California's famous beaches lose ground to the sea, making it difficult for runners to navigate.

SAN DIEGO – I’m standing on Solana Beach right where I was exactly five years ago – at the same point on the tide table – and the water around me is ankle-deep.

Nothing too troubling about that, except that in 2014 I was perched on dry sand and the ocean line was a good 25 to 50 feet away.

Whichever side of the climate change/global warming fence you happen to reside, there is one undeniable fact: Mother Nature never loses.

And so it has become a fait accompli that California’s pristine beaches are shrinking, perhaps disappearing is a better word, at an alarming rate.

It’s a bit of a different situation than the Atlantic Coast, although everyone who owns seaside property from Long Island to Cape May knows melting ice caps and rising seawater eventually will threaten them as well.

California’s dilemma is somewhat unique in that it faces the powerful Pacific, complete with its westerly winds and head-on storms.

Plus, much of the coastline is bordered by cliffs. As the water rises, waves crash off the rocks and then erode the sand away at a faster rate.

On top of that, an estimated 30 percent of California’s 1,200-mile coast is fortified by man-made seawalls which only add to the erosion process in the long run.

On this current trip, we’ve seen many of our traditional beach running routes taken away by the surging breakers. In fact, lifeguard stations are surrounded by waves 1 to 2 feet in height at high tide.

Meanwhile, signs everywhere warn people that cliffs are “unstable’’ and rocks, earth and debris could tumble down at any minute.

This is disheartening to everyone, including runners, who love the hard-packed, flat sand and scenic views. In many areas, it’s either run along busy Pacific Highway 101 or nothing at all.

Come to think of it, seawater has encroached so far inland that sections of 101 have had to be re-routed.

There are some short-term solutions. The town of Malibu, which has plenty of moolah, recently spent $31 million for 2,000 truckloads of sand to replenish nearby Broad Beach. The sand is expected to last about 10 years.

That said, U.S. geologists predict up to 67 percent of California beaches could be gone before the end of the century. There’s no reason to believe they won’t be correct because they were dead-on with their predictions between 1995-2010.

The West Coast kind of got caught off-guard by this. Due to favorable winds and cooler water temperature, the water level along California’s beaches rose insignificantly in the 1900s.

But if the current global warming trend continues, the water level could rise as much as nine feet by the end of the century.

In all, an estimated $150 billion in private properties might be at risk.

As an article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, wildfires and earthquakes get the headlines around here but the rising ocean is the real long-term threat.

Seawalls might protect houses and railroad tracks from plunging into the ocean but they come with a cost: The more rapid erosion of beach sand.

“Seawalls kill beaches,” said Jennifer Savage, California policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, in the L.A. Times article. “I feel like a broken record saying this, but there is still such a disconnect with the public on such a key, simple message: Sea level rise doesn’t just impact homeowners; it impacts every person who wants to go to the beach.”

Those of us in the northeast got a taste of what it can be like when nature throws a Hurricane Sandy at us. They’re still making repairs to infrastructure in New York City nearly a decade later.

Back in California, which relies so much on tourist dollars, the red flags have been raised.

Take measures to stop climate change or pay the price later.

Having to wait for low tide to arrive to get in my daily run on the beach is all the proof I need.


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About Wayne Fish 2444 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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