SAN DIEGO — For the past 27 years or so, Mission Bay Park, a former swampland turned aquatic resort, has been the pride and joy of San Diego's summer attractions.
About 14 million visitors each year bask in its 4,600 acres of land and water; about 2,500 boaters now have their skiffs and yachts stationed in its marinas.
But Mother Nature has not been impressed. Storms, high tides, powerful waves from winds and boats and the continuous lapping of water against land have significantly eroded the bay's shoreline.
Gentle warnings of minor erosion have come and gone. Today, say local experts, nature is threatening to reclaim Mission Bay Park--and may well be on its way to returning the resort to the mud land it once was.
Environmentalists and bay users have been worried and angered for several years over local government's reluctance to pay for countermeasures to prevent that fate. Left alone, they predict, natural forces will eat away the bay's beaches and man-made embankments and slopes.
"We've lost irrigation systems, trees, parts of the park," one biologist said. "If we don't do anything about it, Mission Bay Park will be under water."
On Thursday, those fears may be laid to rest--at least temporarily. That's when the San Diego City Council will probably finalize a decision made last week to fund another year of the city's shoreline-restoration project, a planned six-year effort initiated in 1987.
"This is good news," said Steve Alexander, a Realtor associate in San Diego and chairman of the Mission Bay Park Committee, a group of citizens that for years has lobbied the city to get money for the project. "But we anticipate that we'll have to go back every year to fight this battle."
The council last Thursday, against the budget recommendations of City Manager John Lockwood, voted to allocate $1.9 million for the second year of the project. The city would contribute about $60,000, with the rest coming from state and federal grants, which have not yet been identified, a council spokesman said.
Harm Called Substantial
Officials say damage to the shoreline is extensive. In some areas, sloping beaches have been eaten away, leaving 5-foot-high bluffs to mark the meeting of water and parkland. City officials worry that park visitors, particularly children, could be injured by falling off the cliffs.
Along the shores of Vacation Island, as much as 10 feet of sand or soil in various places is being eroded each year. City engineers say they can now detect differences in slopes week by week.
The engineers are afraid the island may follow the fate of several land masses east of Mission Beach: Where three islands used to stand above the water there now stand 1 1/2. East Ski Island has disappeared. West Ski Island is about half gone, and Government Island, while still intact, now is in danger from water that has broken in between the rocks along its shore, according to officials and bay users.
Another problem is that waves eating away at beaches have created sand bars and mounds in the bay, presenting navigation problems for boaters.
At Santa Clara Point, the foundations of buildings like the Mission Bay Sports Center now are only a few feet from the water.
And at Mariners Point, a flock of California least terns, an endangered species, is losing its protective preserve to waves caused by storms, winds and boats.
"It wouldn't take long for the bay to go back to swampland," said John Leppert, who, as assistant to the city manager, handles much of the city's involvement in bay issues. "It's the natural thing to have happen. If you don't maintain something you've constructed, you can expect it to go back to what it was before."
In the past, city engineers used a Band-Aid approach by simply pouring more sand in areas where beach and shoreline had been eaten away. But analysts heading the restoration project say substantial, innovative measures are being designed to stop the erosion and stabilize the beach.
For instance, sand of a larger grain may be added to some Mission Bay Park beaches, where the sand--each grain about .2 millimeters long--is very fine and small. A larger grain, perhaps 1.0 or 1.2 millimeters, would be more stable against powerful waves, said Roger Hocking, chief engineer at Pountney and Associates, a local firm contracted by the city to develop the restoration plan.
Additionally, concrete walls called bulkheads may be erected between the park and the water to stabilize the shoreline, Hocking said. Such walls, which could be up to 5 feet high, would isolate certain areas from eroding waves, but only the tops of most would be visible to visitors.
Engineers also may extend rip-rap, rocks that have been placed against an embankment as a shield against erosion, along some shoreline where it already exists.
But such work won't begin for at least a year, said Robin Stribley, a biologist and senior planner of the project. Pountney and Associates now are developing the restoration master plan, as well as an environmental impact review. Later, after public review, engineers will apply to various environmental and engineering groups for permits to begin the work.
The money expected to be allocated Thursday, as well as several million dollars more in future city funding, will be stored until actual construction can begin.