Citizens for Coastal Conservancy
February 20, 2019
The recent heavy winter rains in San Diego are displaying the two contrasting systems/strategies of sand management in the Tijuana River Valley…if one chooses to look. The first system is the manmade concrete lined sand capture system built several years ago in Goat Canyon. The other system is the natural sand transportation system in Smuggler’s Gulch. Only during rain events do you typically get to see these two systems working because during most of the year the TJ Valley water system is dry and most of the water is beneath the surface. The advantages and disadvantages of each of these systems have been made quite obvious during the most recent heavy rains.
If you objectively observe and compare these systems it is clear that man-made Goat Canyon sand detention basins are extremely costly (in 2014 cost was $400K per year…In 2018, estimated at $1.8 million per year), scar the land, stop the flow of water and eliminate the natural process of sand transportation which historically has brought sand to the shores of Imperial Beach.
In the case of Smuggler’s Gulch, there is very little maintenance, while in comparison to the cost of Goat Canyon – are by far more cost effective. The additional benefits shown by the Smuggler’s Gulch system is that these natural rivers of sand provide a natural sand/cobblestone stream bed which is excellent habitat for wildlife, they allow for the filtering of water into the aquifer, eliminates standing water, and brings the fast-moving water quickly to our beaches where the ocean through wave action removes the silt as has been the case for thousands of years. One additional benefit is that the Smuggler’s Gulch basin shows that in its natural state that the Tijuana River, if also restored to its natural state, can supply Imperial Beach with over 650,000 cubic yards of beach sand each year and protect our homes in the valley as well as our coastal shoreline homes.
Standing in the way of these basic facts and public opinion are the high-powered, media-
savvy environmentalist Mayor of Imperial Beach, his non-profit organization Wild Coast, a few Imperial Beach City Council members and the influential Surfrider Foundation. Instead of promoting the restoration of the Tijuana River to its natural condition this group is promoting a new larger and more expensive sand capture system like Goat Canyon. This property is located on the east side of Dairy Mart Road directly in the Tijuana River channel. Based on the amount of sand and cobbles, this new Silt Capture Basin will have an estimated annual operational cost of nearly $6.8 million a year not including the cost of construction or the yearly cost escalation for future operations. Like the Goat Canyon facility, the new facility will incorporate the same flaws of the old Silt Capture basins such as high operational cost, scaring of the land, stopping the flow of water and eliminating the natural process of sand transportation which historically has brought sand to the beachfront of Imperial Beach.
However, what these environmental groups are not telling the public is that there are additional facts that should be considered prior to spending these large amounts of taxpayer money.
These additional facts are:
Many local citizens including surfers, environmentalists, residents and ranchers of the Tijuana Valley are questioning why these sand capture basin strategies have been considered over the logical choice of cleaning up the river basin and restoring the Tijuana River to its natural cobble-stone/sand creek bed. Many of these same citizens have grown up the Tijuana River Valley and can still remember when the river was clean, the river flowed to the ocean and the Imperial Beach Slough was full of bright clean sand, full of fish with kelp growing inside the mouth of the river as it entered the ocean. In the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s Imperial Beach had sand shorelines which were very wide during the summer and grew narrow in the winter months. Unfortunately, today after 50 years of latent management of the river system it has become choked full of non-native plant species which act like debris dams and sand capture systems. This has caused river channel to become undefined and the estuary to become full of fine silt which cannot make it to the ocean because the velocity of the river system is blocked by debris.
It should be the goal of all government agencies to return the Tijuana River Valley and its surrounding areas to its most natural state. As it now stands, the Imperial Beach shoreline is threatened with annually being deprived of sand from the Tijuana River and nearly all South Bay citizens support the river valley to be restored to its natural state as a river of sand.