Ocean Beach is one of the gems of the San Francisco landscape, but faces significant challenges. For the past two years, SPUR has led an extensive interagency and public process to develop the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan and Implementation Studies are made possible by the State Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the National Park Service.
A more sustainable future on San Francisco’s coast
SPUR's comprehensive plan offers hope for a better future
Erosion, rising seas and diverse stakeholders present complex challenges
When you think of a city’s circulation system, you might marvel at its network of streets, rail tracks and public transportation but another essential system lies underground – largely hidden and unremarked. The city’s network of storm drains, culverts and sewer pipes is essential to public health and environmental quality. Recently these two worlds collided when the Muni buses and trains became vehicles for San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission advertisements, giving this hardworking system some well-deserved visibility around the city. This creative ad campaign certainly made me curious about how San Francisco’s wastewater system functions, and soon afterwards I found myself taking a tour of one of its vital components: the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant. It was a fascinating experience shedding light on the inner workings of this impressive facility that provides an incredibly valuable service to the city’s residents while preserving the ocean’s water quality.
The Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant
San Francisco is served by three wastewater treatment facilities: North Point near Fisherman’s Wharf, Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bayview Hunter’s Point and Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant near Ocean Beach. Oceanside is the newest facility of the three, built in 1993 as a result of the Federal Clean Water Act upgrade. It replaced the old Richmond Sunset Water Pollution Control Plant from 1935 that was situated in Golden Gate Park. Adjacent to the San Francisco Zoo, this modern plant is engineered for a future Zoo expansion over its roof, able to withstand 300 pounds per square foot as a future Mammal Center. The plant’s facilities are designed to be largely out of sight from the adjacent recreational areas with 70% of its 12 acres located underground, mainly for odor and noise purposes. Its state of the art HVAC system and sophisticated odor control units limit impacts on nearby neighborhoods.
The Oceanside Treatment Plant is specially engineered for coming earthqaukes as well as a future Zoo expansion over its roof. Image by Maria Bakali.
How the system works
San Francisco is the only major city on the California coast with a city-wide combined sewer system. This means that it does not only treat domestic sewage from homes in the western half of San Francisco but also stormwater collected on city streets, rooftops, and parking lots via the city’s storm drains. This urban runoff often carries metals, motor oil, garden chemicals and other waste that, if left untreated, can harm the ocean’s ecosystem. The wastewater load fluctuates depending on weather conditions. In dry weather sewage travels through a network of pipes to the Westside Transport Box, a rectangular tube under the Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat Boulevards. From there it flows to the Westside pump station at Sloat Boulevard, where it is pumped to the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment. The process involves a preliminary, primary and secondary treatment. The secondary-treated effluent is discharged 4.5 miles out to the ocean through the 80 feet deep Southwest Ocean Outfall. The plant treats around 16 million gallons per day in dry weather conditions while it has a capacity of 65 million gallons per day. When the plant’s capacity is overwhelmed in extreme wet weather conditions, the transport box and the Lake Merced Tunnel, two massive structures designed to store runoff and prevent overflows, fill up and retain the combined flow. Overflow there is decanted and pumped to the deep ocean outfall. Only when that system’s capacity is exceeded do combined discharges occur, through two large outfall structures on Ocean Beach.
The 200 tons of biosolids produced daily as remainders of wastewater’s secondary treatment are regionally transported for agricultural land application purposes or for landfill beneficial reuse. In addition the methane produced in the plant’s digesters is used to power the plant, covering 30% of its electrical needs. Most of the system’s functions are automated (60%), with the plant’s engineers, chemists and marine biologists monitoring the plant’s good operation and the quality of the ocean’s environment and ecosystems respectively.
Why is this facility important
The Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant is a very efficient system, serving the city’s Westside neighborhoods and watersheds while treating 20% of the city’s average annual wastewater flows. It is an award winning facility whose prizes include the 2003 Large Plant of the Year Award and the 2004 US Environmental Protection Agency National Clean Water Act Recognition Award for Operations and Maintenance Excellence. This expensive piece of infrastructure is at the early stages of its operating cycle and maintaining its good performance and operation for the rest of this cycle is vital.
There are, however, some significant challenges in doing so. The main threat to the facility is coastal erosion that could damage the Lake Merced Tunel underneath the Great Highway. With the sea level rise posing an imminent hazard, future erosion issues most likely will worsen if no comprehensive coastal management is set in place. Another question is how the current infrastructure can deal with the future combined sewer loads. To relieve some stress put on the system during extreme weather events, Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is moving forward with projects that combine grey and green infrastructure and integrate innovative stormwater management solutions of Low Impact Development (LID).
OBMP and the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant
One of the major goals of the Ocean Beach Master Plan is to protect in place the Oceanside system components for the next decades. According to the OBMP vision a combination of managed retreat, beach nourishment and low profile structural protection will substitute current revetments providing a more environmentally sensitive and aesthetically preferable solution. These measures will also allow for improved recreational and ecological opportunities along the beach and the surrounding area, benefiting residents and visitors alike. The PUC is working very closely with SPUR, the coastal engineering team and other partner agencies on developing a Coastal Management Framework, that will delineate coastal protection strategies until 2050. For more updates on developments on Ocean Beach join SPUR’s new public outreach efforts this May. Stay connected with us through Twitter, Facebook and our Blog!
Want to know more about the Oceanside Treatment Plant? Sign up for a free tour organized by San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Amazing ocean views once difficult to capture from a car seat can now be enjoyed by anyone who makes a short trip to Pacifica’s Devil’s Slide Trail. After nearly 20 years, a project to redirect traffic through mountain tunnels and convert this former portion of Highway 1 to a non-motorized multi-use coastal trail is finally complete. The trail opened to public on March 27 and welcomes hikers, cyclists, horse riders and leashed dogs 24 hours a day, all year around. With its similarities to erosion-damaged sections of the Great Highway, Devil's Slide offers a model for implementing some of the recommendations in SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan.
Devil’s Slide History
The rugged headland midway between Montara and the Linda Mar District of Pacifica, with its steep unstable coastal cliffs, bears the distinct name “Devil’s Slide.” The terrain’s propensity for landslides and erosion did not hinder the construction of Highway 1 back in 1937. Only three years after the highway’s opening, the first major landslide caused extensive damages to the road. In the following years, periods of destruction and rebuilding alternated, with the winters of 1983 and 1995 marking remarkably lengthy closures, leading decisionmakers to plan for alternatives.
The initial Caltrans proposal to construct a four-to-six-lane freeway bypass was opposed by grassroots environmental organizations who favored the construction of two 30-foot wide tunnels instead. This safer and more environmentally sensiitive approach, which also allowed for a separate coastal recreational trail, found considerable support with local governments and was approved in 1996 by San Mateo County voters. Multiple agencies including San Mateo County, the City of Pacifica, Caltrans, the California Coastal Commission and the National Park Service partnered to bring the plan to fruition. The Tom Lantos Tunnels — officially named after the congressman who played a major role in securing funding for the project and also known as "the people’s tunnels” after the novel grassroots victory — opened to traffic in March 2013, a year before the trail’s opening.
Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail
The 1.3 mile, 24-feet wide repaved trail provides separated pedestrian walkways and bike lanes featuring painted signage to avoid the extensive use of sign posts. Accessibility improvements and protective rail installments increase safety, while educational graphic panels about the area’s geology, environment and history provide information to visitors. Three overlook areas with benches and observation telescopes offer spectacular scenic vistas, showcasing the coast’s natural beauty. The trail’s critical proximity to bird nesting locations requires special protection measures to decrease visitors’ visibility and ensure habitat protection. Devil’s Slide becomes part of the California Coastal Trail connecting Mori Point to Pillar Point, and emerges as a regional destination, expected to attract 80,000 visitors annually.
Car access to the trailheads is granted through two small parking areas at the trail’s ends, although emphasis is put on public transportation, carpooling and biking. SamTrans bus stops at the south end of the tunnel and free Pacifica city shuttles during weekends serve the visitors who choose transit to reach the trail. Negotiations with private owners are in progress to ensure long-term pedestrian access from Pacifica to the trail.
Ocean Beach Master Plan
The Devil’s Slide project has significant similarities to SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan. First, it addresses the impacts of coastal erosion on California’s coast in a comprehensive manner, and second, it does so by fostering partnerships among a number of different public agencies. Because the Great Highway has its own history of lengthy closures under extreme weather and erosion, the Ocean Beach Master Plan recommends the closure of the south reach of the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline boulevards. Under the plan, the abandoned lanes will be transformed into a multi-use path that celebrates open space and ecological restoration through managed retreat. The coastal trail along Ocean Beach will provide critical connections to the surrounding recreational resources of the area, creating a continuous promenade from Fort Funston up to Lands End. The project combines coastal adaptation management while giving San Franciscans and visitors a unique resource of immense environmental and recreational value. Changes on the Great Highway will be implemented incrementally according to the timeframes set by the Ocean Beach Master Plan implementation studies. Check SPUR's Ocean Beach Master Plan page for updates.
Under the threat of sea level rise, a number of coastal communities around the world will have to decide between protecting coastal homes and structures or giving way to the persistent impacts of coastal erosion by retreating from the coastline.
A recent FEMA-funded study warned that each year, on average 1500 homes and the land on which they are built could erode into the ocean due to rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next Assessment Report (due to be released next year) is expected to include increased sea level rise estimates, as it will be its first to account for melting ice sheets. Continued research is making it increasingly apparent that many of the coastal management and development strategies employed thus far must evolve.
Until quite recently, the overwhelming response to coastal erosion—especially in developed areas—has been to armor the coastlines through hard engineering strategies, such as seawalls and piles of rock referred to as riprap or revetments. However, coastal armoring interrupts sediment patterns and intensifies erosion elsewhere. As a result, a number of coastal areas in the state have begun to consider managed retreat, an approach that involves giving space for natural processes.
Among the key benefits of managed retreat are the restoration of native processes and sediment patterns. Managed retreat can also be used in conjunction with soft engineering strategies, allowing for customizable solutions to meet the needs of different coastal land uses and characteristics. This article highlights a few instances in the state in which managed retreat has been considered as an alternative to coastal armoring.
Goleta Beach, Goleta, CA
Goleta Beach, as seen from behind rock revetments. Image courtesy of Flickr user Damian Gadal
Managed retreat can be a contentious coastal management strategy because it requires the removal or relocation of man-made structures or amenities away from the coast. This has been highlighted in Santa Barbara County, where a plan to remove parking spaces and rock revetments at Goleta Beach Park has been contested by a local community group and the Chamber of Commerce. At the center of the issue is Goleta Beach Park, a stretch of lawn and parkland currently protected by revetments.
Friends of Goleta Beach Park, the opponents of the County Planning Department’s proposed plan—dubbed “Goleta Beach 2.0”—claim that the loss of recreational opportunities and approximately one-fifth of the parking availability will dramatically hamper coastal access at Goleta Beach, which draws an estimated 1.5 million visitors per year.
Proponents of the plan, including the Surfrider Foundation and Environmental Defense Center, are calling for managed retreat in order to ensure the long-term stability of the beach. Under current conditions, the revetments protecting the park and parking lots exacerbate beach erosion during storm events. Should the County go forth with the plan, a number of “at-risk” utility lines and a bike path would be moved inland for protection.
Surfer's Point, Ventura, CA
Just 40 miles to the south of Goleta Beach, Ventura’s popular Surfer’s Point serves as a model for what could soon take place at Goleta. After attempting to bolster the shoreline with boulders to protect a bike path and parking lot that were being eaten away by waves, erosion intensified down the coast. Proposals of an underground seawall, which would have ruined the breakpoint—and thus, the namesake—at Surfer’s Point were briefly considered as an alternative, but managed retreat was decided upon as the ideal way to maintain natural sediment patterns and restore the beach.
The project, which was led in part by Louis White, PE, and Bob Battalio, PE, of ESA PWA—who are working closely with SPUR on the Ocean Beach Master Plan—included relocation of the existing bike path and parking lot 60 feet inland, then the removal of riprap and its replacement with thousands of tons of sand and cobble stone. The beach is currently being returned to native dune ecology.
Ocean Beach Master Plan
The Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP) recommends managed retreat south of Sloat Boulevard, a long-term process that would involve the removal of the Great Highway and the creation of a multi-use recreational trail connecting to Fort Funston. Most importantly, it would allow for the restoration of native dunes, increasing the recreational and ecological function of the area. The OBMP also recommends narrowing the Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat in order to create a multimodal promenade and allow for a natural dunescape.
Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Relocation
As a state that has long devoted premiere shoreline to expensive homes and businesses, managed retreat represents a paradigm shift. However, as more research goes into sea level rise and the impacts of sediment pattern interruption caused by hard engineering strategies, it is likely that coastal management strategies will more frequently involve managed retreat. Relocation assistance and buy-back programs help make managed retreat a more politically friendly option, especially for coastal property owners.
As always, solutions should be explored on a case-by-case basis. Last month’s blog post about New York City highlighted the city’s inability to retreat in developed areas due to infrastructure needs and population density along many of the shorelines. As more and more areas of the coastline fall under the threat of erosion, it will be important to figure out costs and benefits associated with protecting or relocating structures. How will coastal jurisdictions decide what to protect, and at what financial and ecological costs?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has encouraged coastal states to utilize “No Build Zones” through Coastal Management Programs, which are required by the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. The CZMA requires states to manage coastal development in order to minimize losses due to flooding, storm surges, or erosion, as well as to protect natural coastal features. Other means used to prevent and limit coastal development include setbacks, which require development to be a specified distance from the water’s edge, and rolling easements, which allow development, but without any erosion control methods.
While new coastal development will undoubtedly take a far more precautionary approach in the coming years, existing communities will have a big decision to make: armor or retreat?
As a city with a combined sewer system—meaning that stormwater enters the wastewater treatment system—the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is undertaking projects around the city to divert stormwater into landscaping, in order to reduce demand on the aging sewer system. One of the eight green infrastructure projects in the SFPUC’s 20 year, multi-billion dollar Sewer System Improvement Program is the Sunset Boulevard Greenway, which could reduce the frequency of combined sewer discharges into the Pacific Ocean along Ocean Beach.
According to the SFPUC, the sewer system treats about 80 million gallons per day during dry weather, a number that swells to 500 million during rainy weather. When the Oceanside Treatment Plant and nearby storage structures—which serve the city’s western watersheds—exceed capacity, combined sewer discharges are released directly onto Ocean Beach after receiving only primary treatment.
Combined sewer systems are predominantly found in older communities in the Midwest and Northeast United States, with the only other combined sewer system in California being found in an older portion of Sacramento. For coastal communities without combined sewer systems, stormwater flows directly into creeks and rivers, reaching the ocean after traveling through catch basins that remove trash—but not chemical pollutants, like paint or motor oil—and require frequent cleanings. Although combined sewers can result wet weather overflows, they are preferable to year-round untreated stormwater.
Low-impact design (LID) strategies like those recommended in the SFPUC Sunset Boulevard Greenway Project represent one solution, allowing for water to soak into the ground, thus removing pollutants through a natural filtration system and mimicking pre-development conditions. According to SFPUC estimates, the Sunset Boulevard Greenway Project would improve stormwater management for over 20 acres of paved surfaces, capturing more than 10 million gallons of runoff annually. In turn, this would lead to an estimated annual reduction of 5 million gallons of combined sewer discharges into the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to reducing the detrimental urbanizing impacts that cities have on water systems, LID projects can bring much-needed greenery and natural landscapes into cities, often doubling as beautifying measures. LID is achieved through rain gardens, sidewalk gardens and trees—a single street tree removes about 1,000 gallons of stormwater from the sewer annually—and creeks, bioswales, ponds, or restored wetlands (see more about these, and other forms of green infrastructure in a recent blog post by Laura Tam, SPUR’s Sustainable Development Policy Director.
Although specific plans for the Sunset Boulevard Greenway Project will not be released until the planning phase, which is projected to take place between Winter 2013 and Spring 2014, the SFPUC is emphasizing a number of improvements spanning beyond stormwater management, including beautification, revitalized pedestrian and cyclist space and trail use, habitat enhancement, community recreation space, and educational benefits.
The influence that low-impact design projects have on streetscape improvements make them an attractive option for interagency collaboration. San Francisco’s Department of Public Works is incorporating LID strategies within many of its projects as part of the Great Streets Program, including its Taraval Streetscape Improvements Project. LID features are also included in San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Livable Streets projects (for traffic calming, among other purposes) and Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Program.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP) includes a recommendation to employ LID throughout adjacent neighborhoods and along the Great Highway to address stormwater management. Much of the Sunset District lends itself well to potential future LID projects because of its wide, hilly streets, many of which are sparsely vegetated and contain paved-over front yards.
To help plan the Sunset Boulevard Greenway, take the SFPUC’s survey.
SPUR and its partners kicked off the Multimodal Transportation Analysis on July 26th, making it the second in a series of three implementation studies that will help agencies analyze and move forward with recommendations made in the Ocean Beach Master Plan (OBMP). The OBMP presents a number of recommendations that would have significant transportation implications, most notably the closure of the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard and re-routing of traffic via Sloat and Skyline Boulevards. The analysis will include an existing conditions study, design and configuration development based on OBMP recommendations, and transportation modeling.
SPUR has been working closely with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and SF Planning Department to scope this implementation study, which is funded by the California State Coastal Conservancy and National Park Service through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). SPUR is pleased to announce Nelson\Nygaard and AECOM as the consultant team for this project. The two firms were instrumental in the development of the OBMP and bring expertise in transportation planning and engineering, multimodal street and intersection design, landscape design, and transportation modeling. Nelson\Nygaard is the lead consultant and will oversee the design and configuration development, while AECOM will carry out the existing conditions study and transportation modeling. These projects are elaborated upon below:
Existing Conditions Analysis
The existing conditions analysis will collect and present data relevant to OBMP recommendations, utilizing multimodal traffic counts, traffic performance analysis, and circulation conditions. Traffic counts and performance analysis will be conducted at key intersections along the Great Highway and on nearby thoroughfares--such as Sunset Boulevard--to examine the feasibility of OBMP recommendations that would divert traffic.
The analysis will provide a summary of commute and recreational travel patterns, accounting for peak usage demand during rush hour, special events, and favorable weather. This will ultimately inform the design and configuration development process, identifying potential challenges and recommendations related to the implementation of the OBMP.
Design and Configuration Development
Using the existing conditions findings, conceptual street and intersection configurations will be formulated. Three alternatives will then be selected, with preliminary designs being presented to stakeholders in at least one public workshop in Spring 2014. Design options will focus on OBMP recommendations, including removing the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard, the reconfiguration of Sloat Boulevard and intersection modifications, as well as addressing Zoo circulation and access planning, the L-Taraval extension, narrowing the Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat, and parking supply and management.
Multimodal Transportation Analysis and Modeling
Next spring, SPUR will work with project partners to select and finalize three design and configuration alternatives for transportation analysis and modeling, which will help the project team identify the challenges, opportunities, and impacts associated with each.
The resulting report, which will be integrated with the SF County Transportation Authority’s citywide transportation model, will be completed according to city technical standards in preparation for eventual review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
SPUR will continue to monitor the progress and impacts of ongoing projects near Ocean Beach, including SFMTA’s Livable Streets safety improvements on Sloat Boulevard, SFPUC’s Sunset Boulevard Greenway Project, and DPW’s streetscape improvements and Great Highway repaving project.
Throughout this process, SPUR will coordinate the work of the team and agency partners, assist the project team in coordinating with other ongoing transportation studies along Ocean Beach, continue its public outreach efforts, and steward the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision. Keep an eye on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter for additional updates on OBMP’s Implementation Studies.
Storm waves at Rockaway Beach, taken from 'A Stonger, More Resilient New York.'
Six months after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the northern Atlantic Coast, New York City released its plan to protect the city in what may be the most extensive climate adaptation plan to date. ‘A Stronger, More Resilient New York’ matches coastal protection strategies with the needs of New York's varied waterfront land uses. As SPUR and its partners move forward with the implementation of the Ocean Beach Master Plan, some intriguing lessons from Hurricane Sandy and New York’s new plan can be applied to San Francisco’s western shoreline.
Vision 2020 and A Stronger, More Resilient New York
Just one year prior to Hurricane Sandy, New York City issued ‘Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan,’ a ten-year framework for waterfront development that included “strategies to increase the city’s resilience to climate change and sea level rise.” The destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy crippled the city’s infrastructure and became a catalyst for more extensive planning. As the second costliest hurricane in US history after Katrina, the storm resulted in billions of dollars in flooding damage, widespread power outages, gas shortages, subway closures, and an overwhelmed sewer system.
Building on the waterfront plan, ‘A Stronger, More Resilient New York,’ identifies coastal protection strategies including increased coastal edge elevations through the use of beach nourishment, sea walls, or bulkheads; minimizing upland wave run-up and storm surges by slowing waves before they reach the shore and through the use of levees and floodwalls; and floodproofing buildings located within FEMA’s mapped floodplains.
Typical Coastal Resiliency Measures. Image from 'A Stronger, More Resilient New York.'
Performance of Nourished Beaches and Dunes
While there are dramatic differences between the coastlines of New York and San Francisco, especially in terms of population density and development intensity, New York’s ocean-facing coastline and San Francisco’s Ocean Beach have experienced massive amounts of erosion in recent storms. The 2009-10 El Niño storms caused the Ocean Beach shoreline to retreat 75% further than a typical winter, undermining the parking and road shoulder along the Great Highway and requiring a $5 million dollar emergency remediation project. Similarly, an estimated 3 million cubic yards of sand were lost citywide as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
The Rockaway Peninsula accounted for half of the city’s total sand losses, but neighborhoods protected by dune systems suffered far less damage than areas without them. Nourished beaches on the Coney Island Peninsula and Brighton Beach also performed better in comparison, absorbing wave energy and floodwater surges. Like New York’s plan, SPUR’s OBMP recommends the restoration of native dunes in key locations at Ocean Beach, along with the use of large-scale beach nourishment south of Sloat Boulevard to forestall erosion caused by prevailing sediment circulation patterns.
Unlike San Francisco’s western shoreline, New York’s developed coastline has little room to allow for retreat. In Vision 2020, retreat is only considered an option along less developed portions of the coastline, such as wetlands or other open spaces. On a large scale, retreat in the NYC area would mean displacing residents and relocation of infrastructure that would be extremely difficult and expensive to move. The report also notes that retreat would impede the city’s goals of dense development along the waterfront. Therefore, most of New York’s waterfront protection measures will involve hard engineering strategies.
However, with federally protected beaches and a four-lane highway, San Francisco’s western shoreline has more room to work with natural processes, allowing for managed retreat. At the core of the Ocean Beach Master Plan is the narrowing of the Great Highway along the length of the Sunset District and its closure south of Sloat Boulevard, allowing space for native dune restoration and the creation of a multi-modal path to improve recreational coastal access.
Sunday Streets on the Great Highway, July 7, 2013. Image courtesy of Shannon Fiala.
Learning from Hurricane Sandy
New York’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy and its recent climate change adaptation planning efforts highlight the need for implementation. Although New York had prepared the Vision 2020 waterfront plan, the hurricane caught the city largely off guard and highlighted the need for increased resiliency in power, transportation, and wastewater treatment systems.
Although San Francisco’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission has invested significantly in the Adapting to Rising Tides study and SPUR has conducted extensive research on climate adaptation, New York’s experience highlights the need to move beyond planning studies and to act.
Windblown sand covering the Ocean Beach parking lot near the intersection of Great Highway and Sloat Boulevard. Image courtesy Bob Battalio, ESA PWA.
The placement of 73,000 cubic yards of sand by SFPUC and the GGNRA -- a softer approach to coastal protection that SPUR supports -- has resulted in a significant unintended consequence: windblown sand that has closed the parking lot, restroom, and Great Highway at Sloat Boulevard. Large amounts of sand (where once there was next to none) combined with its relatively fine grain size, the ramp-like shape of the embankment that was created and especially heavy offshore Spring winds, have resulted in drifts forming higher than the concrete barriers at the parking lot's edge, creating a headache for city crews, who are struggling to keep up.
At the same time, the sand has provided a lot of benefits. It has allowed an additional measure of protection, helping to stave the placement of any additional hard structures. According to coastal engineers working in the area, it has also been moved alongshore, raising the level (and thus the width) of the sandy beach for some distance beyond the placement area. A casual observer can see that the project drastically improved aesthetics and pedestrian access to the beach, covering the exposed fill and rubble as well as portions of the nearby sandbags and revetments.
Why it Matters
Resolving the windblown sand problem is especially important for the future of coastal management at Ocean Beach. Beach nourishment (or the placement of sand) is envisioned as a major tool for tackling erosion, both through a repeat of last year's "backpass" by truck from the north end of the beach, and, longer-term, through the placement of sand dredged from the Golden Gate Marine Shipping Channel by the US Army Corps of Engineers. If the side effect of sand placement is havoc on the landside, the ability to use this tool will be compromised.
The Good News: Mitigation Techniques
The news is that there are many measures that can reduce the incidence of windblown sand. SPUR is working with our partner agencies and coastal consultants to develop and test some best practices going forward. First, the sand embankment can be reshaped to act as less of a launching ramp. Sand fencing can also be placed to interrupt blowing sand. Simple string fencing or driftwood can guide visitors to the best access points, limiting surface impacts. Straw made from dried beach grass can be 'punched' into the sand, introducing a rougher surface that inhibits blowouts.
Punched straw and string fencing at Surfer's Point in Ventura, January 2013. Image courtesy Bob Battalio, ESA PWA.
What to Expect
Look for city crews to be removing sand in the coming weeks, followed by a pilot project testing some of these windblown sand management techniques.
Fleishhacker Pool with sand dunes, 1925. Photo credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
The Coastal Management Framework (CMF) is a new project that sets the stage for implementation of the Ocean Beach Master Plan’s (OBMP) approach to coastal management through the year 2050 in the context of severe erosion and climate-induced sea level rise. The OBMP presents a series of recommendations designed to improve and restore conditions at Ocean Beach- including managed retreat, beach nourishment, and innovative approaches to protecting threatened infrastructure while maintaining recreational access and ecological functions. The Framework will include interim protection strategies in anticipation of extreme weather events, as well as a long-term strategy for adapting to sea level rise, and it will lay the foundation for an interagency coastal management agreement among the three major responsible agencies, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
SPUR has been working closely with SFPUC and GGNRA staff to scope this project. In January, SPUR hired a team of coastal engineering consultants led by Bob Battalio at ESA PWA and Dilip Trivedi at Moffatt & Nichol. Other team members include AGS, Inc. and Jacobs Engineering, as well as coastal plant ecologist, Peter Baye. On January 31st, 2013, SPUR kicked off the CMF project with participants from the SFPUC, GGNRA, USACE, San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW), and the consultant team.
The team’s first task will create a near-term (1-10 year) approach to coastal management. Over the next few months, the consultant team will work with SFPUC, GGNRA and USACE to investigate best practices and case studies for innovative coastal protection strategies, emphasizing options that are reversible, minimally impactful, and compatible with Ocean Beach Master Plan recommendations. The interim approach will build on recent successes using softer approaches to coastal protection, including the use of temporary sandbags and the placement of large quantities of excess sand from the north end of the beach.
The team will also identify key triggers phasing of coastal protection measures at Ocean Beach.
Over a longer time scale, the team will develop an approach to cleaning up debris and rubble south of Sloat Boulevard, as well as a managed retreat approach for gradually closing the Great Highway south of Sloat, allowing for the coastline to recede and for new restoration and recreational opportunities. This process will require careful coordination with the California Coastal Commission, as well as OBMP stakeholders, in determining the best strategy.
Coastal Engineering Feasibility Studies
The next task will result in the production of two studies, a Coastal Vulnerability Analysis Study, and a Coastal Engineering Feasibility Study, to test and develop the concepts outlined in the OBMP. The first is an expanded analysis of existing and projected coastal hazards through erosion and flooding, taking account of the complex dynamic processes that shape the coast... The second study will analyze the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure and will develop a suite of protection measures, such as managed retreat, sand placed through beach nourishment, dynamic cobble berms and low-profile structures. This effort will develop a “multi-objective” approach to coastal protection, meaning that it will address ecological, recreational, and aesthetic considerations along with engineering and cost imperatives.
Coastal Protection In-Situ Pilot Studies
The team will also recommend and design pilot studies of coastal protection measures at Ocean Beach, studying the performance and behavior of different interventions in the unique and challenging conditions there. The interplay of the underlying geology, existing and placed sand, exposed fill, and innovative tools like dynamic cobble berms needs to be better understood to support an adaptive approach to coastal management at Ocean Beach, and these studies would provide critical information.
Interagency Coastal Management Agreement
Ultimately, SPUR and its partners will produce a Coastal Management Framework Report that will provide the basis of an agreement among the SFPUC, Army Corps, and GGNRA. This agreement would include a 40-year Coastal Protection Strategy, including a strategy for Capital Planning to fund these construction projects and a strategy for moving these projects through the environmental review and permitting process.
Throughout this process, SPUR will coordinate the work of the team and agency partners, continue its public outreach efforts, and steward the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision. Keep an eye on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter for additional updates on OBMP’s Implementation Studies, including more detailed posts on the Transportation and Joint Open Space Planning projects!
Ocean Beach looking northwest and the Great Highway’s southbound lanes, closed for sand maintenance. In the next phase, SPUR will investigate the traffic and transportation impacts of permanently closing the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard, as well as innovative strategies for managing coastal erosion. Photo courtesy Flickr user Robert B. Livingston
For the past two years, SPUR has led an extensive interagency and public process for the development of the Ocean Beach Master Plan. This work represents the first move SPUR and San Francisco have made to directly address sea level rise. Now we are beginning the first steps to implement the plan, which presents recommendations for the management and protection of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach through the year 2050. The master plan lays out an ambitious and proactive vision to adapt to rising seas, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access. The vision was developed through the participation of a wide range of public agencies, advocates, and citizens over an 18-month period.
Read the complete Master Plan >>
The Ocean Beach Master Plan is already achieving tangible benefits and improved partnership among public agencies. In August and September of 2012, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) partnered with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to truck 73,000 cubic yards of excess sand from the north end of Ocean Beach to the south, tackling two problems at once: the record accumulation of sand at the north end, and severe erosion at the south end. The results — a “sacrificial” dune protecting the beach and covering unsightly rubble — hint at the potential of large-scale beach nourishment, a key ingredient in the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision.
This year, the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) is repaving the Great Highway from end to end. As key a partner on the master plan, DPW was well aware of the plan’s proposals to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to Ocean Beach. DPW Director Mohammed Nuru directed his staff to add recommended planted medians and improved crossings to the repaving project, which will improve safety and access while improving environmental performance and aesthetics.
SPUR Leads Implementation Studies
The Ocean Beach Master Plan is a vision document. Although it is already shaping actions on the ground, it doesn’t yet have the force of law or policy. SPUR is now engaged in efforts to implement the vision, helping to translate plan recommendations into implementable projects, develop more detailed technical analysis, and prepare for environmental and regulatory review. We have been awarded funds from the California State Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the National Park Service to conduct implementation studies. These will include a transportation analysis, a coastal management framework and open space planning.
Implementing the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision will require significant reconfiguration of roadways, including the closure of the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard, the re-routing of traffic behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline, and the redesign of Sloat Boulevard into a multi-modal coastal gateway. This project will conduct detailed transportation analysis, including an existing conditions study, the development of roadway configurations based on Ocean Beach Master Plan recommendations, and modeling the effects of the proposed changes on the city’s transportation system.
SPUR is working closely with SF Municipal Transportation Agency and SF Planning Department staff to scope this project and ensure it will meet the city’s technical requirements.
Coastal Management Framework
The Framework will test and further develop the master plan’s approach to coastal management, which includes a combination of managed retreat, beach nourishment and coastal armoring, all designed to protect threatened infrastructure while also supporting coastal access, recreation and ecological functions. This study will include interim protection strategies, as well as defining triggers and actions as sea-level rise sets in. It will lay the foundation of an interagency agreement for adaptive coastal management actions by the three major responsible agencies (SFPUC, GGNRA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers).
SPUR is working closely with SFPUC and GGNRA staff to scope this project and hire a coastal engineering consulting team.
Listen to SPUR's Ben Grant in KQED's piece on managed retreat: "San Francisco: A Test Case for Coping with Rising Seas."
Joint Open Space Planning
This project will coordinate collaboration between local and federal partners in managing Ocean Beach as a recreational and ecological resource. The study will include open space schematic design and programming studies, as well as pilot studies and the installation of temporary amenities. It will lay the foundation of an interagency agreement for open space management actions by the two major responsible agencies, GGNRA and the SF Department of Recreation and Parks).
Stay tuned for more updates on the implementation of the Ocean Beach Master Plan!
San Francisco plans expensive ‘managed retreat’ from rising seas Grist, 02/04/13
Ocean Beach Master Plan Envisions Big Changes SF Public Press, 02/04/13
San Francisco a Test Case for Coping with Rising Seas KQED, 02/01/13
New plan crafted to limit Ocean Beach erosion SF Chronicle, 11/02/12
Ocean Beach sand management project wraps up ABC Local News, 09/20/12
Sand Mangement Project to partly close Great Highway OB Bulletin, 08/19/12
Great Highway lane work delayed SF Chronicle, 08/09/12
Mayor Lee Celebrates SPUR Ocean Beach Master Plan SF Mayor’s Office, 07/26/12
Turning the Tide at Ocean Beach KQED News, 07/26/12
Shifting sand to be transported elsewhere in San Francisco SF Examiner, 07/23/12
Ocean Beach sand plan could help curb erosion south of Sloat OB Bulletin 07/20/12
Ocean Beach master plan maps $300M project SF Business Journal, 06/22/12
Stay or go? Communities are eyeing a retreat from sea NBC News, 06/02/12
San Francisco's Coast and the Rising Sea KQED, 04/10/12
San Francisco's Battle With Mother Nature Planetizen, 03/28/12
Coastal Erosion in SF Prompts Planning and Debate KQED, 03/26/12
Both Coasts Watch Closely as SF Faces Erosion The New York Times, 03/24/12
Makeover could mean changes on Great Highway SF Examiner, 11/12/11
OBMP Envisions Big Changes for Great Highway KQED, 11/07/11
Erosion expected to strip economic value of Ocean Beach OB Bulletin, 09/13/11
Erosion problems threaten the future of Ocean Beach ABC Local News, 09/05/11
State panel rejects city's repairs to Ocean Beach SF Chronicle, 07/15/11
Violent Pacific storms of 2010 worst on record SF Chronicle, 07/14/11
Public urged to help decide fixes for Ocean Beach erosion Sunset Beacon, 02/01/11
Forces of Nature are Working to Destroy Ocean Beach The Bay Citizen, 01/25/11
On the Brink of an Ocean Beach Master Plan OB Bulletin, 09/21/10
Is It Worth It to Save Oceanfront Development? The New York Times, 09/13/10
Experts Call for Long-Term Fix for Beach Erosion Sunset Beacon, 11/01/10
Ocean Beach due for an overhaul SF Examiner, 07/08/08
The Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on the California Coast Pacific Institute
Coastal Regional Sediment Management Project USACE, CA Resources Agency
FEMA California Coastal Analysis and Mapping Project (CCAMP) FEMA
Our Coast Our Future (OCOF) GFNMS, PRBO, USGS
Western Shoreline Plan (Local Coastal Program) SF Planning
Ocean Beach Task Force Summary (2005) Ocean Beach Task Force
South Ocean Beach - Shore Management Discussion Bob Battalio, PE