Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When Good Beaches Go Bad

Bolstering an eroding bank (Star-Advertiser)
The forecast for Wednesday is 10- to 12-foot surf on the north shore of Oahu and what the ocean brings in as sand it takes away and brings back again. But sometimes it doesn’t and, on an island in the middle of the Pacific where the sea is just feet away, shoreline erosion has brought desperate measures at Sunset Beach’s Rocky Point on the north shore where the shoreline is eroding and the sea threatens houses.

Since last fall, high surf during unusually high tides have eroded yards, trees and pool decks into the sea. Just after New Year’s Day, city crews cleared debris off the beach at Sunset and homeowners took stopgap measures to staunch the erosion. The sea will put back some of the shoreline’s sand but nobody knows how bad the damage might be from the next high surf and high tide.

In a marginally unrelated occurrence, the recently-completed $2.4 million beach restoration program has required additional fixes after what was determined to be unusual currents eroded a stretch of the restored beach. (See What’s An Island Beach Without Sand?)

Last week, state lawmakers heard from scientists that climate change will drive sea level rise which will result in more and more coastal erosion and flooding incidents.

Referring to the Sunset Beach and Waikiki erosion, Dolan Eversole of NOAA told lawmakers, "Perhaps it's a glimpse into our not-so-distant future.” Eversole said a general estimate on sea-level rise is 1 foot by 2050 and 1 meter, or 3.28 feet, by 2100 but, “I think those numbers are on the low end for Hawaii.”

Representative Chris Lee is preparing to introduce legislation to require the state to better prepare for the potential impacts of climate change on Hawaii. "If we lose our beaches, we lose our economy and we lose our way of life here," Lee said.

But adapting to sea level rise will require changes in land use and construction standards— and making hard decisions on which beaches are priority areas to protect.

You can’t build a wall around everything. "There are a variety of places around the state where you can draw a line and say we are absolutely not going to allow any armoring because, as you know, it's a domino effect,” said Eversole. “As soon as you build one (sea) wall, it affects the neighbors."

And Nature in the end will have the last say.

--Mike Sato

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