Cliffs at Crown Beach

More than five inches of rain pummeled Alameda on October 24, making it the wettest October day ever. The storm washed away tons of sand along Crown Memorial State Beach and Alameda Beach, leaving cliffs at the edge of the vegetated sand dunes.

“The most significant damage of our shoreline parks was at Crown Beach,” Jim O’Connor told the Park Advisory Committee.  O’Connor is the Assistant General Manager of Park Operations for the East Bay Regional Park District.  “A lot of rain came at one time and there was significant erosion,” which “may be an effect of climate change.”

The so-called atmospheric river of rain washed away nearly all the sand that was placed there almost eight years ago to the day, exposing the original yellow sand some of us remember from before.

Starting on October 26, 2013, about 82,600 cubic yards of sand from offshore barges was distributed on Alameda’s shoreline and was completed by the end of that year.  At a cost of nearly $5.7 million, the project sought to restore the beach and dune system to its 1987 footprint and was projected to last 20 years.  The sand itself came from a commercial dredging operation near Angel Island.

“That sand was much coarser than the original sand was,” said frequent beachgoer Ani Dimusheva.  “I bet that gravely sand, which was harder on the bare feet than the light-colored, finer sand that it covered, didn’t compress as nicely and was easier to wash away.”

The resulting sand cliffs range from two to seven feet tall. The board-sport concessionaire’s outdoor shower tower was undermined, leaving its cement foundation suspended over a cliff.  Sandbags have been placed nearby to hold the picnic area in place. Fences to preserve the dune habitat along the beach are suspended in air too. One walkway is closed because the elevation drops four feet where the access trail mat enters the beach.

The East Bay Regional Park District, which manages the beach, is evaluating the situation and studying its options on how to remedy the situation.

The city’s climate action and resiliency plan, adopted in 2019, anticipated having to someday modify the beach to withstand climate and sea level rise impacts where the cliffs have formed at the board sports area.  The recommendation states, “Consider opportunities to move the shoreline into the Bay at a more gradual slope to protect against erosion.”  The timeline for the adaptive measure is during the next five to ten years.  The October 24 storm may have compressed the timeline.

Crown Beach is an artificial beach that has no natural source of sand replenishment, such as deposition from a creek or river. Annual beach maintenance requires bulldozing the sand back in place that got moved by tide action.

According to the park district’s website, approximately one percent of the sand is washed away every year due to normal natural causes.  Major storm events, such as occurred in 1998, 2005-2006, and now 2021, drastically accelerate beach erosion.

Replacement of the sand in 2013 was funded mainly by the East Bay Regional Park District, with additional funding from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), State Department of Boating and Waterways; and Dubai Star oil spill mitigation funds.  

It is unknown how a new batch of replacement sand will be funded or where it would be procured from.  It is also unknown whether that sand will more closely match the original, finer sand that beach users enjoyed prior to 2013, and whether that would prevent such drastic erosion.

Not far away, the newly completed Encinal Boat Launch Facility saw its floating docks broken and flipped on their sides, requiring removal for repair.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

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