From the time the beach first opened on July 4, 1925, development along the roughly 1.7 miles of coast in Solana Beach has blocked the natural processes that deposit sand along the shoreline.
Since 1999, The Army Corps of Engineers has been studying ways to replace the sand. The Corps estimates that Solana Beach would need 180,000 cubic yards of sand every five years to keep its beach intact. In 2001 the San Diego Bay was dredged and Fletcher Cove received 140,000 cubic yards of sand. Although only a fraction of what was needed, it has all since disappeared.
On June 25, the Solana Beach City Council got an update from Heather Schlosser, study manager with the Army Corps of Engineers on a potential artificial reef project for Fletcher Cove. Still in the initial planning stages, the project is associated with a larger plan that involves the city of Encinitas. The purpose of the manmade reef would be for sand retention by reducing coastal storm damage and increasing recreational opportunities such as surfing.
The conceptual design being considered was originally prepared for the Oil Piers of Ventura County project. Geotextile tubes manufactured of high strength polyester or polypropylene material are loaded on to barges, placed at the reef sight, anchored to the sea floor and then filled with sediment. Schlosser pointed out that the reason geotextile tubes are being encouraged is because they can be designed more precisely than sand bags or rocks for multi-use areas.
The tubes serve to reduce wave power, which otherwise takes the sand out with it. The hope is that in doing so, the form of the shoreline will change and thus create a stable profile that can maintain the sand on the beach.
Although only a rough estimate, Schlosser said construction of the project could begin in 2011 or 2012 at a cost of around $3 million. Funds for the project can be obtained through federal and state programs, which offer varying amounts of subsidies. Also there is money available that has been paid in fees from the installation of various sea walls.
Council members Mike Nichols and Joe Kellejian both expressed concerns over damage to the recreational aspects of Fletcher Cove, specifically surfing. Kellejian referred to the Surfrider Foundation's use of geotextile bags at the Pratt's Reef Project in El Segundo and the costs associated with removing the bags should the need arise.
"That project was a disaster that I hope will not occur here at Fletcher Cove," he said. "We want to make sure that there is no damage to the existing surfing area and even more importantly, that it enhances it, because that's how it was originally presented to us."
Oceanographer and coastal engineer, Hany Elwany, has owned Coastal Environments in La Jolla for the past 37 years. Elwany said that he thinks the project is good and should be encouraged, but cautions that systems such as the one proposed are always questionable.
"We have to be patient with these things because we're learning from them," he said. "With engineering projects there are always advantages and disadvantages." Currently Elwany is involved in the construction of Southern California Edison's experimental artificial kelp reef in San Clemente, restoration of the San Dieguito lagoon and the La Jolla Children's Pool beach project.
Environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation, Chad Nelson reflected upon his personal experience with the Pratt's Reef project and warns that removing geotextile bags from the ocean floor is not an easy or inexpensive endeavor. He described the process in detail and advised that a project such as the one proposed at Fletcher Cove needs to be carefully modeled and planned because unlike other reef systems that are typically placed far offshore for the sake of attracting and growing marine life, this project would be close to the shore and involve enhancement for recreational purposes. Nelson pointed out that this is a fairly new approach, which has only been tried in a few situations and has not enjoyed a lot of success.
ASR America, LLC, North American affiliate for ASR Limited of New Zealand has been chose by the Corps' as the lead engineering firm for the Fletcher Cove project. A complete phase one analysis is expected by January 2009.