Monsters at the beach

Gordon Clanton

By Gordon Clanton

On a recent visit to the Torrey Pines State Beach, I came upon the sights and sounds of a major reshaping of the natural world.  Two enormous bright yellow Komatsu excavators, as tall as Tyrannosaurus rex, with articulated booms and tank-like treads, scoop sand from the mouth of Los Penasquitos Lagoon and from the tidal basin east of the bridge.

The wet sand is dropped into three huge bright yellow Caterpillar dump trucks, each with six wheels six feet in diameter. The trucks, belching diesel smoke, roar south along the beach, now cordoned off from public use. They dump the sand, some near the high tide line, some into the edge of the surf.  A bright yellow bulldozer, beeping loudly when it backs up, rakes and smooths the new sand.

The sand replenishment is a side benefit.  The main purpose of this activity is to re-open the lagoon mouth to the ocean.  Although a new highway bridge built in 2005 greatly enhanced the tidal flow, the outlet still becomes clogged.

The health of the lagoon depends on the natural flushing action of the tides.  When the lagoon mouth becomes silted in, the regular influx of seawater is blocked and the lagoon becomes stagnant and stinky.  Mosquitoes breed here, then drift uphill.

Meanwhile the lagoon continues to be fed by fresh water, including the increased runoff from decades of paving and home construction in Del Mar Heights and Del Mar Terrace and the “urban drool” that trickles down from adjacent bluffs because of the continuous irrigation of a thousand bright green lawns.

As the lagoon fills with fresh water, the marsh becomes inhospitable to certain species of birds, fish, and plants that depend on tidal flushing.

As the water in the lagoon becomes less salty, a fresh-water mosquito (Culex tarsalis) moves into the area — the mosquito known to carry the West Nile virus.  WNV first appeared in the United States in 1999 and spread across the country from East to West.  Infection can sometimes, although very rarely, be fatal for humans — one death in California (Sacramento) in 2013.

After mostly being open in recent years, the lagoon mouth closed in March.  The slough was reopened in May but again became blocked with sand.  The current activity is scheduled to last eight days and will cost the City of San Diego an estimated $100,000.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University.

He welcomes comments at

Related posts:

  1. Trucking along Cardiff State Beach
  2. River bridge to be retrofitted
  3. Opinion: Secret trails of Crest Canyon
  4. Opinion: San Dieguito Lagoon restoration nears completion
  5. Sand to beach reclamation effort under way in Encinitas

Short URL:

Posted by Staff on Jun 28, 2013. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, One View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply



Bottom Buttons 1

Bottom Buttons 2

Bottom Buttons 3

Bottom Buttons 4

Bottom Buttons 5

Bottom Buttons 6





  • Community input received on proposed health club and pool facility in Rancho Santa Fe
    About 100 Rancho Santa Fe residents showed up on Friday, Oct. 17, for a health club and pool community meeting, the last outreach before ballots were mailed on Monday, Oct. 20. On the ballots, members are being asked whether the Rancho Santa Fe Association should spend $350,000 on a professional planning phase for the potential new community amenity. RSF Ass […]
  • Czech violin duo to perform at Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe
    In cooperation with the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, the Czech School San Diego hosts a free classical violin concert by internationally recognized Czech violin player Jaroslav Svecený and his daughter, Julie Svecená, who are on a tour of the United States. The concert will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Village Church. The father-daughter duo will […]
  • Rancho Santa Fe weekly sports update
    Torrey Pines defeated Canyon Crest Academy 4-3 in a Palomar League opener for both teams on Oct. 9. Alayna Tomlinson and Farah Farjood each scored two goals to lead the Falcons. Samantha “Sammy” Cirino added one goal and one assist. […]