Call it nourishment, replenishment, or restoration, the process of dredging, pumping and dumping sand to widen eroding beaches--thus bringing them back to some semblance of their former selves--is coming under increasing scrutiny as a high-cost solution to a never-ceasing problem.
Beach nourishment projects are federally, state, locally, or privately funded and often are funded by a combination of sources. Federal funding for beach nourishment alone increased from $79 million in 1995 to $104 million in 2009. With most projects with costing somewhere between $1-$2 million, and larger, longer-lasting projects often costing as much as $100 million; and with 95,000 miles of U.S. coastal shoreline to protect from rising sea levels of 3-6 feet in this century, not only is this an expensive and massive job, it's a job with no end in sight.
Once a beach has been nourished once, that process usually becomes a regular part of keeping that beach up and running. Scientists at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the new sand "often disappears rapidly, does not prevent erosion and remains vulnerable to loss from [storms]." Beach nourishment sand usually erodes two to three times faster than the natural sand on the beach.
Despite the high price tag, beach nourishment is wildly popular in most, but not all, coastal communities. Proponents of big nourishment projects say the economic return on the investment makes the projects more than pay for themselves -- by as much as four to one.
If sea levels do rise as expected, beach nourishment will continue to raise the hackles of people who think it is a classic case of throwing good money after bad.
What do you think? Is this a good investment for taxpayers or perhaps there might be other ways of addressing this problem?
Photo: micah420 via flickr/Creative Commons