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Sandy Shores Again : Beaches Back in Shape After 3 Mild Winters

Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians expected to visit beaches this weekend for the ceremonial start of the summer season should find the sandy shores of Orange and Los Angeles counties in their best shape since the disastrous winter storms of 1982 and 1983.

Three years of unusually mild winters have helped rejuvenate the wave-battered beaches by replacing tons of sand that had been stripped from shore during the series of violent storms.

About 75% of the depleted coastline has been replenished through the gradual movement of sand from the underwater drifts created during the storms, said Carl F. Enson, chief of planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sand from the deposits several miles off the coast have helped expand the width of the beaches about 110 feet during the three years, he said.

“On the average, we lost about 150 feet of beach during the storms,” Enson said. “The beaches are still depleted. But they are in much better shape now than we expected after those storms. We have had a remarkable recovery.”

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‘Pretty Much Back to Normal’

Enson said planners expect the beaches to increase in width an additional 10 to 20 feet this summer from the movement of sand that becomes suspended in waves during the rough winter months and is then swept onshore in the summer.

Main Beach in Laguna Beach was one of the hardest hit during the 1983 storms, particularly at the north end, where most of the sand was washed away completely.

“But we’re pretty much back to normal now,” said lifeguard supervisor Sam Taylor of the replenishment that has occurred over the past three years.

Farther north, at Sunset Beach and Surfside, near Seal Beach, nature needed help in replacing the sand, said lifeguard John Carpenter.

“The Army Corps of Engineers trucked in a lot of sand from harbor dredging to build it back up and most of it’s still there,” Carpenter said.

Seal Beach itself fights a continual battle of disappearing sand which, Carpenter said, is caused by the wave action generated between two breakwaters.

“We have to truck the sand from one side of the beach to the other,” he said.

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The wave and storm conditions that caused other areas to suffer sand loss actually seem to help Huntington Beach, according to Lt. Steve Davidson of the city lifeguard agency.

“We always seem to pick up other people’s beaches in the winter,” Davidson said of the peculiar sand drift patterns.

San Clemente’s beaches are somewhat of an exception, because so far this year they haven’t had the sand replenishment normally expected, said Steve Lashbrook, marine safety officer for the city. “The gentle south swells that usually come in May bring the sand replenishment, and so far we haven’t gotten them,” Lashbrook said. “They could come at any time, though. Right now the sand replenishment isn’t what is normal for this time of year.”

Improved Conditions

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The improved condition of most of the Southern California beaches came despite a stormy winter this year.

The harsh storms of February and March--the worst since the storms three years ago--eroded parts of the beaches but were not severe enough to undo years of replenishing, Enson, of the Army Corps of Engineers, said.

Beaches in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties have rebounded more quickly than those in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, because the Channel Islands and other offshore islands to the north serve as a natural barrier to large, damaging wind and waves from the northwest, he said.

While the beaches may be wider and healthier this year, they also will be crowded today and Monday, lifeguards and beach officials said. Even in overcast and cool weather, hundreds of thousands of beachgoers take advantage of the three-day weekend, they said.

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Regular Warnings

Aside from regular warnings about avoiding riptides, keeping alcoholic beverages off the beach and using plenty of sunscreen, lifeguards said beachgoers during the Memorial Day holiday should make certain that the nearest lifeguard station is manned before plunging into the ocean.

Some Orange County lifeguard towers are not manned during the Memorial Day weekend because the position is seasonal and most lifeguards work only during the summer months. For example, Laguna Beach lifeguard Adam Trujillo said that only 10 towers will be open, with an additional two-man crew roving the area. During the summer months, at least 50 lifeguards will be working at all times, he said.

Moderate Crowd

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At Newport Beach, where a “moderate” crowd of about 90,000 people took to the sands Saturday, marine safety officer John Blauer said that partial staffing is natural in the off-season. Many regular lifeguards are out of state attending school, so “a lot of trainees” are pressed into service on Memorial Day, he said.

Most beaches reported moderate crowds as some offshore winds kept crowds below capacity. Seal Beach reported about 10,000 people, Huntington State Beach about 80,000, Huntington City Beach about 20,000 and Laguna Beach about 30,000. There were only a few minor rescues.

Swimmers might want to think twice about taking the big plunge, several lifeguards said. The water temperature has been a frigid 60 degrees--about 10 degrees cooler than it is later in the summer.

Times staff writers Gary Jarlson and Bill Billiter contributed to this story.

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