Skip to main content

Millions in funding for Surfside-Sunset and San Clemente sand projects make it into federal request

July 15, 2021

Projects to add much-needed sand to two Orange County beaches have been included in a federal appropriations request for 2022.

The Surfside-Sunset and Newport Beach Nourishment Project and the San Clemente Shoreline Project have made it into the next House Committee on Appropriations’ request, which would earmark millions in federal dollars for the projects on the county’s northern and southern ends.

Both projects have been stalled for years, awaiting government funding to help create a beach buffer that would protect roads, home and infrastructure from ocean flooding, as well as keep beaches – one of the region’s major tourism draws – from disappearing.

But don’t count the sand grains just yet. The Energy and Water Development and Related Agency Funding Bill has to pass both the House and Senate, with the first vote happening by the end of the month.

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, who has been lobbying in Washington, D.C. for the Surfside-Sunset project’s funding and submitted the request, this week visited the Balboa Peninsula to get a look at the shrinking sand, the same spot in Newport Beach where flooding occurred in July 2020 when the ocean went over the sand and into the parking lots and streets.

The project would seed Surfside with new sand that ocean currents and waves would then spread down 12 miles of coast to Newport Beach. The last time sand was added was 2010 – previously the replenishment happened every five to seven years.

“The federal government took responsibility for sand erosion in this area more than half a century ago, but for the past decade has failed to act to keep our beach communities safe,” Steel said in a statement. “I’ve worked with local stakeholders for nearly a decade to ensure our beaches are healthy and our residents are protected. This is an exciting first step. We’ll continue to work together to get this project done.”

In 1962, Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act, which required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the impacts of the constructed flood control structures on the sand deposits that should be happening naturally along shorelines.

Representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers are currently working on the Surfside-Sunset & Newport Beach Replenishment Project to make sure all the construction and environmental documents are in place to obtain 1.75 million cubic yards of sand if funding is approved, a project manager said last month.

Local officials in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach have been pleading with the Army Corps of Engineers and local representatives to find funding for the delayed project. 

The first round of the Surfside-Sunset & Newport Beach Replenishment Project was completed in 1964, depositing 1.5 million cubic yards of sand. The most recent round, the 13th, was scheduled for 2018, but never happened.

Erosion of Orange County’s beaches can be traced back to federal projects in the 1940s, with the widening of Anaheim Bay and constructed breakwaters and jetties for the new military bases and Los Angeles/Long Beach harbors, Steel said previously. “This is totally man-made erosion.”

The impact of the delay is starting to show, local officials have said, as the sea creeps closer to homes, businesses and roads that are vulnerable to storm and tide damage.

Current cost estimates for the project are at $23 million. The project will need $15.5 million in federal funding – the full amount requested in the Appropriation Committee budget. Local agencies must cover $7.63 million, most of which was set aside years ago.

San Clemente has been waiting about two decades for its big replenishment project. Last year the city received a boost in the amount of $500,000 in federal funding for the design phase.

The project would add 251,000 cubic yards of sand from Linda Lane beach to T-Street beach south of the pier. The sand has shrunk so much there in recent years, city leaders have discussed the possibly of moving the Marine Safety Headquarters off the beach.

About $9.3 million was requested in the appropriations bill by Congressman Mike Levin for the San Clemente Shoreline Project.

The bill also asks for federal funding locally for the San Gabriel Basin Restoration Fund (about $10 million), the Salton Sea Research Project ($2.5 million) and the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration ($3.7 million).

The largest project included in the funding bill is the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program for $350 million.

The news comes the same week the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration released a report saying the U.S. saw record-setting high-tide flooding last year, forcing residents to deal with flooded shorelines, streets and basements.

“High waters are affecting coastal economies and crucial infrastructure like waste and stormwater systems and roads,” the announcement reads.

The trend is expected to continue into 2022 and beyond without improved flood defenses, the NOAA report says.