The “Sink the Breakwater” project is being led by the Surfrider Foundation Long Beach Chapter. With the Surfrider Foundation’s guidance, a grassroots effort involving thousands of Long Beach residents has evolved. The slogan “Sink the Breakwater” was selected for its representation of the project’s goal; to safely reconfigure the Long Beach Breakwater so that waves and clean water will greet the shores of Long Beach again.
Only the LB Breakwater is being considered for this project, which sits between the Queen’s Way Gate to the west and the Alamitos Channel to the east. The Middle and San Pedro Breakwaters, fronting the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, are not to be touched. With the closure of the U.S. Navy base in 1997, the LB Breakwater lost its original purpose. It is time to get rid of the LB Breakwater and bring back our beach community.
Long Beach Breakwater History
Construction of the San Pedro and Middle Breakwaters started in 1899 and completed in 1942. Construction of the LB Breakwater started in 1941, halted in 1943 due to WWII, resumed in 1946, and completed in 1949. The U.S. Navy moved to the Port of Long Beach in 1940 and used the breakwaters for military purposes. Before the LB Breakwater, the natural flow of ocean currents and waves assisted in keeping the beaches and waters in Long Beach free from stagnating pollutants. Long Beach was known as the “Waikiki of Southern California” There was even the first national surfing championship contest here in 1939.
Considerations of Reconfiguring the Breakwater
- Waves in Long Beach: Because of the south facing beaches, Long Beach could naturally benefit from the south swells which come in the summer. The winter swells from the west would also penetrate into Long Beach to provide surf related recreation. This would dramatically change the usage and image of our city. (Surfline’s Surf Forecast Report, 2009)
- Improved ecosystem: With the LB Breakwater in place, urban runoff and stormwater from the Los Angeles River gets trapped between the breakwater and our shoreline. Bringing waves back to the Long Beach marine environment would help improve the water quality by restoring circulation and breaking waves would help oxygenate the waters. Rocks from the LB Breakwater could be used to create rocky bottoms for giant kelp habitat, attracting desirable fish and other marine species.
- Economic benefit to the City: The increase in wave action would attract tourists, which would become a key city revenue source. A recent study by the City estimated that up to $52 million per year can be generated in city revenue by having a beach with waves. (Economic Study King 2009)
- Increased property values: Currently Long Beach coastal real estate values are lower than those of similar nearby beach cities. A beach with waves would lead to increased property values, benefiting homeowners city wide.
- Reduce Erosion on the Peninsula: The eastern-most end of Long Beach’s shores is the Peninsula neighborhood. Their ocean facing beach has suffered from chronic beach erosion, requiring the City to spend $300,000 to $500,000 per year to move sand from the Belmont Plaza to the Peninsula. The Peninsula Beach reconnaissance study of 2000 concluded that south swells coming through the opening between the Alamitos jetty and the LB Breakwater move sand from the Peninsula northwest toward the Belmont Plaza. The LB Breakwater prevents the normal long-shore current that flows from northwest to southeast, from hitting our beaches. If the LB Breakwater were removed, this natural current could return, reducing this erosion. Keep in mind that any breakwater reconfiguration would require protection for the ocean front property. This could be achieved with a wide beach, stabilized through use of structures, such as reefs or groins.
- Strengthen Structures in Long Beach Harbor: The Port of Long Beach, Belmont Pier, oil islands, Shoreline Marina, and other areas around the mouth of the Los Angeles River were developed with the existing small wave climate protected by the LB Breakwater. Mitigation would be required as part of the project to withstand an increased swell if the LB Breakwater were reconfigured.
Sink the Breakwater Timeline and Milestones
1996: Long Beach Breakwater Task Force formed in the Surfrider Foundation Huntington Beach/Long Beach Chapter after the release of the Breakwater 50th anniversary newspaper article. Public outreach starts.
1998: LB Breakwater Task Force becomes Surfrider Foundation, Long Beach Chapter
2001: A Long Beach City Councilman makes a motion to have a LB Breakwater reconfiguration study, but doesn’t get a second.
2005: Long Beach City Council votes to ask the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to perform a reconnaissance study on reconfiguring the LB Breakwater.
2007: Long Beach City Council votes to allocate $100,000 from Tidelands funds to pay for the reconnaissance study.
2009: The reconnaissance study completed; Congress funds $90,000 for Army Corps review.
2010: In February the reconnaissance study is presented to Army Corps for their review. (ArmyCorps Reconnaissance 6-21-2010)
2010: On November 30, the city signed an agreement with the Army Corps to begin an Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study, to include LB Breakwater reconfiguration.
2011: Federal Government banned earmarks. The feasibility study languished unfunded.
2012: On October 9, the Long Beach City Council voted to work with the Army Corps to streamline the feasibility study to fit within the Corp’s 3x3x3 program; reducing the study timeline to less than 3 years;
budget to less than $3 million; and requiring 3 levels of Army Corps review. City of Long Beach’s official site for the Long Beach Breakwater Project (aka “East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration”)
2016: Surfrider Foundation submits a request letter to the Army Corps of Engineers to include breakwater reconfiguration alternatives in the feasibility study. (LB Surfrider Foundation Letter to Army Corps)
2018: At a community meeting hosted by Surfrider Foundation on June 22, City officials and Army Corps of Engineers states that the feasibility study will look at five alternatives, two of which are related to the breakwater reconfiguration.
How Much and How Long?
The reconnaissance study took $180,000 and 2 years. The feasibility study has taken 8 years and counting. The feasibility study cost is supposed to be less than $3 million, but will likely be more. The LB Breakwater reconfiguration and mitigation construction should cost from $500 million to $1 billion. Once the study portion is complete, and funding is appropriated, final engineering and construction should require from 5 to 10 years to complete.
What You Can Do
- Become a Surfrider Foundation member (surfrider.org)
- Write a letter to your city council to let them know that you want waves back to Long Beach.
- Get your “Sink the Breakwater” T-shirts and bumper stickers at our table events or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Come to our meetings. For a schedule, go to longbeach.surfrider.org/calendar/
- Donate money. The Long Beach Chapter runs on volunteer efforts and funds. All donations are tax deductible. You will receive a receipt in the mail if you send a check payable to the address: Surfrider Foundation Long Beach Chapter, P.O. Box 14627, Long Beach, CA 90853