As the shifting sands of the city's beaches continue to shorten the distance between beachfront homes and the ocean, the latest plan to replenish the one-mile-long main beach is stuck in the mud.
An ambitious effort to recover 110,000 cubic yards of sand from a Santa Ana River dredging project to replenish the main beach has yielded only dirt and clay.
With only one-third of the dredging project completed, city officials are hoping they may yet hit sand under all that dirt.
"It's a disaster right now," Mayor George Brown said. "We're not giving up. We're still hopeful that as they continue the excavation they could hit a deeper area down there where there may be a lot of sand."
The last major flooding in Seal Beach occurred in 1983 when a winter storm coupled with high tides destroyed the pier and filled surf-side homes with seawater. The city now scoops sand on the main beach into a berm each winter, creating a sandy seawall that has successfully held the surf at bay.
The worst sand erosion is south of the main beach in the Surfside community where as little as 75 feet of sloping sand separates beach homes from the ocean, according to Lee Whittenberg, city director of development services.
"There is an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to put sand on those beaches in 1996, but the erosion has been faster than anyone expected," Whittenberg said. "The main problem is that this area is in between two jetty systems."
Surfside beaches are bordered by the San Gabriel River jetty to the north and the Anaheim Bay jetty on the south, preventing the typical sand-replenishment patterns of other beach cities, according to Whittenberg.
City officials say they are looking for other sources of sand.
If the dredging of the Santa Ana River eventually produces usable sand, the city would pay an estimated $350,000 to $450,000 to transport and spread the sand on the main beach. But even the 110,000 cubic feet of sand first expected from the dredging project would fall far short of the 250,000 cubic feet of sand city officials say is needed. One double-trailer truckload of sand amounts to only 15 cubic yards.
And in the search for sand, not just any sand will do. If the grains are too small, the sand will quickly wash away with the tide. And if the source of the sand is too far away, city officials say transportation costs would be too much.
"We can't really use the kind of sand that's used for construction and concrete work," Whittenberg said. "It's a little more difficult than you might think."