Out to Sea

Carmel Beach lost most of its white sand during January’s storms, but it is likely to return over the next season or two.

It’s not that unusual for Carmel Beach to temporarily lose some of its iconic white sand during rough storms in the wintertime. What was unusual was how much sand was lost during the string of atmospheric rivers in January, something employees of 30 years had never seen, says Agnes Martelet, environmental compliance manager for the city. The erosion lowered the beach floor significantly, exposing hidden rocks and leaving at least one stairway hanging.

“We basically lost most of the sand on the beach,” Martelet says. Much of it was in the middle of the roughly one-mile beach. “We do expect it to come back eventually.” Already there are signs it’s returning, but it could take one or even two seasons of wave action.

The beach normally loses sand during storms packing high-energy waves in the winter, with lower-energy waves returning the sand in the summer. The unique white sand derives from waves eroding a formation of Santa Lucia granodiorite offshore, created by volcanic eruptions nearly 80 million years ago. It’s made up of quartz and other minerals that give the sand its white sheen.

Powerful waves in January also damaged two beach-access staircases: one at Fourth Avenue at the northernmost end, which is now blocked off, and another at the southernmost end that sustained minor damage due to heavy piles of kelp and other debris loading onto the stairway during the storms.

“In a way, there is a silver lining to it,” Martelet says. The erosion gives the city an opportunity to better inspect the city’s seawalls and what are called revetments, large boulders set in place to deter wave energy. It will also help with a coastal engineering study project recently begun to look at the city’s coastal area in greater detail and determine if officials need to add any improvements to adapt to sea level rise.

Around Carmel Point, the cliff that supports Scenic Road eroded in one spot to the point where a piece of road was left hanging. A plan for repair work there, which is in the unincorporated county area, has not been finalized, according to a county spokesperson.

Officials expect to use federal funds made available for storm relief thanks to a federal disaster declaration related to the storms. On Jan. 31, county officials updated an initial damage cost estimate from $13.1 million to $16.7 million covering roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

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