For nearly seven decades, Long Beach has not seen a wave reach the shore of its beaches. Once known as the “Waikiki of Southern California” because of its popularity as a surf spot, residents mostly avoid the city’s beaches, well aware the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers have stagnated and stagnated the water between the Long Beach Breakwater and shoreline.


At 10:40am on Sunday, June 7, I took a picture of the Long Beach coastline. The weather was beautiful; a perfect day to be at the beach. But, nobody was swimming, or even near the water’s edge. At the same time in Huntington Beach, my husband was surfing and reported that the parking lots, beach, and water were packed with people.

breakwater section

The Long Beach Breakwater (essentially a 2.5 mile long pile of stones) was built in the 1940’s to shelter the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet. The ships are long gone, but the pile of rocks remains, trapping water near the shoreline by inhibiting the natural flow of the ocean currents. The rocks impairs swimming and water based recreation due to elevated bacteria levels, trash, and debris in the water and along the shoreline. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in Long Beach “an average of 4,000 tons of trash and debris is deposited on City beaches annually.”


The bright spot in this story is that earlier this month, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced the City and the USACE have reached an agreement on funding of the San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Study. The study’s title sounds small and toothless, but it is not, for it could provide the political muscle (read: funding and federal approval) needed to reconfigure the pile of rocks that have exacerbated the substantial ecological stress of near coastal habitats.

A vision of what the Long Beach shoreline could one day look like once the rocks are Breakwater rocks are removed.

A vision of what the Long Beach shoreline could one day look like once the rocks are Breakwater rocks are removed.

The study is scheduled to start in early 2016 and will evaluate how different reconfigurations of the breakwater can direct river water away from the shore to divert effluent from recreational areas, improve water circulation, and restore kelp and eelgrass populations. I hope along with the bathymetric and hydrologic models, someone studies how to engineer the perfect Long Beach surf break.


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