California’s coasts eat away at the Pacific Ocean

 

Steve Lang took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego and watched the waves crashing relentlessly against the rocks and overflowing onto the tracks. A sad spectacle caused by erosion and the disappearance of the beach just below.

“Every day I come here, and it makes me want to cry,” says the 68-year-old surfer, who has a front-row seat from his luxurious ocean-view home in San Clemente.

San Clemente is a small town in Southern California, and the ocean is inexorably gaining ground. In front of the railroad levee where the “Pacific Surf liner” passes, this train famous for its exceptional panorama, the beach, which extended a hundred meters a few years ago, has evaporated.

The railroad, which allows 8.3 million passengers to travel between San Diego and San Luis Obispo each year, is now closed for emergency work.

At the top of the cliff, anxiety reigns within the “Cyprus Shore” residence, a secure enclave of a hundred or so posh villas, where the former American president Richard Nixon owned a mansion for a long time.

The beach supports the entire neighbourhood, and the landslide on which it was built is slowly pushing some houses into the sea.

The cliffside parking lot is collapsing, and two villas with cracked walls are now officially uninhabitable.

“They were worth at least 10 million each,” sighs Mr. Lang. “We’ve been sounding the alarm for years, to no avail.”

The area is a veritable “microcosm” of the issues ahead along California’s 2,000 miles of coastline, summarizes San Clemente Deputy Mayor Chris Duncan.

“The entire coast in California is threatened by climate change and erosion.”

This natural phenomenon is exacerbated by rising seas caused by melting glaciers and increased wave power due to warming oceans.

By 2050, between $8 billion and $10 billion worth of infrastructure could be underwater in California, and other construction valued at $6 billion to $10 billion will be in the high-tide hazard zone, according to a study released in late 2019 by the state Assembly office.

In San Clemente, local transportation officials are trying to stabilize the tracks.

Every day, tons of rocks are being dumped to reinforce the seawall under the tracks. The work is expected to take 45 days and cost $12 million.

But “it’s a losing battle,” sighs Mr. Duncan. The line already closed in September 2021 to add 18,000 tons of rocks without solving the problem. “They help stabilize the track temporarily but cause an exponential loss of sand,” he says when waves bounce violently off them.

The Democratic elected official is calling for federal help to resupply his city with sand massively.

“We need sand replenishment and sand retention techniques to make sure we rebuild our beaches,” he hammers. “We need seawalls, living reefs, groins where it might be appropriate.”

I was backing off a considerable challenge.

In the long term, “the best solution would be to move back (the rails) away from the coast,” Joseph Street, a geologist with the California Coastal Commission, tells AFP. “But that’s a huge, expensive effort,” without addressing the fate of the homes.

“Many of our decision-makers have dragged their feet,” laments Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, of Surfrider Foundation. The environmental NGO advocates moving the line away from the coast, an option advocated in a 2009 federal report.

But this concept of “supervised retreat” remains highly controversial. “People don’t want to hear about it,” the activist admits.

California has only a handful of such initiatives.

On the same rail line as San Clemente, authorities in San Diego, about 100 miles south, announced in July a massive $300 million project to relocate the portion of the tracks under their control inland.

But in San Clemente, there’s no question of that.

“This can only be an option of last resort,” throws in Mr. Duncan, the deputy mayor. “People expect elected officials like me to work to save our homes and rail lines, not to give up.”

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California’s coasts eat away at the Pacific Ocean

  Steve Lang took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego and watched the waves crashing relentlessly against the rocks and overflowing onto the tracks. A sad spectacle caused by erosion and the disappearance of the beach just below. "Every day I come here, and it makes me want to cry," says the 68-year-old surfer, who has a front-row seat from his luxurious ocean-view home in San Clemente. San Clemente is a small town in Southern California, and the ocean is inexorably gaining ground. In front of the railroad levee where the "Pacific Surf liner" passes, this train famous for its exceptional panorama, the beach, which extended a hundred meters a few years ago, has evaporated. The railroad, which allows 8.3 million passengers to travel between San Diego and San Luis Obispo each year, is now closed for emergency work. At the top of the cliff, anxiety reigns within the "Cyprus Shore" residence, a secure enclave of a hundred or so posh villas, where the former American president Richard Nixon owned a mansion for a long time. The beach supports the entire neighbourhood, and the landslide on which it was built is slowly pushing some houses into the sea. The cliffside parking lot is collapsing, and two villas with cracked walls are now officially uninhabitable. "They were worth at least 10 million each," sighs Mr. Lang. "We've been sounding the alarm for years, to no avail." The area is a veritable "microcosm" of the issues ahead along California's 2,000 miles of coastline, summarizes San Clemente Deputy Mayor Chris Duncan. "The entire coast in California is threatened by climate change and erosion." This natural phenomenon is exacerbated by rising seas caused by melting glaciers and increased wave power due to warming oceans. By 2050, between $8 billion and $10 billion worth of infrastructure could be underwater in California, and other construction valued at $6 billion to $10 billion will be in the high-tide hazard zone, according to a study released in late 2019 by the state Assembly office. In San Clemente, local transportation officials are trying to stabilize the tracks. Every day, tons of rocks are being dumped to reinforce the seawall under the tracks. The work is expected to take 45 days and cost $12 million. But "it's a losing battle," sighs Mr. Duncan. The line already closed in September 2021 to add 18,000 tons of rocks without solving the problem. "They help stabilize the track temporarily but cause an exponential loss of sand," he says when waves bounce violently off them. The Democratic elected official is calling for federal help to resupply his city with sand massively. "We need sand replenishment and sand retention techniques to make sure we rebuild our beaches," he hammers. "We need seawalls, living reefs, groins where it might be appropriate." I was backing off a considerable challenge. In the long term, "the best solution would be to move back (the rails) away from the coast," Joseph Street, a geologist with the California Coastal Commission, tells AFP. "But that's a huge, expensive effort," without addressing the fate of the homes. "Many of our decision-makers have dragged their feet," laments Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, of Surfrider Foundation. The environmental NGO advocates moving the line away from the coast, an option advocated in a 2009 federal report. But this concept of "supervised retreat" remains highly controversial. "People don't want to hear about it," the activist admits. California has only a handful of such initiatives. On the same rail line as San Clemente, authorities in San Diego, about 100 miles south, announced in July a massive $300 million project to relocate the portion of the tracks under their control inland. But in San Clemente, there's no question of that. "This can only be an option of last resort," throws in Mr. Duncan, the deputy mayor. "People expect elected officials like me to work to save our homes and rail lines, not to give up."
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