Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer, and for Americans from all 50 states as well as the territories, that means going to the beach. I'll bet that more than a few of you reading this post are at the beach right now or just came back. A few years ago, we did a study of all of the summer visitors to the three communities on Topsail Island, NC. It's a laid back vacation destination, lacking the kind of density of some other coastal locations. We found that there was at least one visitor to the island from every congressional district in the nation! We did studies of other communities on the East and Gulf coasts and found similar geographical diversity among those who enjoyed the benefits of the coast, even if they golfed, went to a pool, or surveyed the local bars and never went to the beach.
So how does that relate to the possibility of beach volleyball being cancelled in 2020? Simple: We take sand for granted, but it's a precious natural resource. The sandy coasts used for recreation are probably among those that have been renourished with offshore sand.
Sand moves, but its natural movement has been interrupted by man-made channels and development. Sammy and Sandra Sandgrain start out in Maine and travel down the coast. But they get caught in a channel so they can't make it to Connecticut, let alone Florida. Their cousins, Nathan and Natasha, rode a good current down to North Carolina last year but got blown out to sea by a summer hurricane and are stuck two miles from shore waiting to ride a wave strong enough to bring them near shore. If the channel that trapped Sammy and Sandra gets dredged, our sandy couple can either be given a new home onshore or dumped as far offshore as possible. In legal terms, that offshore dumping is often referred to as the "least cost standard" because it often costs less than onshore placement, and it's their most likely destination.
The concerns about the national supply of sand are real. So is the need to make a Federal commitment to get trapped sand and sand that's been blown too far from shore rescued so we continue to have a plentiful sand supply. As much as I really enjoy beach volleyball, the main reason we need to make that commitment is to get sand back into the natural system where it can provide protection from surges -- the waves caused by storms. More than half the nation's population is located on or near the coast, as is hundreds of billions of dollars of critical infrastructure (roads to electric power plants and ports that handle 90% of what we produce and consume). Rich people may own the big coastal homes, but middle-income families live and work there, too, with even more workers commuting regularly to repair homes, provide medical care, and serve food.
The FY 18 budget the President proposed last week has about $25 Million for all coastal projects and programs. Recent history shows that Congress will boost that to as much as $100 million. Of course, it's not enough, but it's money well spent since that money will be matched by State and local money and will return more than $100 million in storm damages avoided. That's actually a requirement for all Federal "beach" projects. Pay now, or pay much more later in the form of post-storm disaster assistance and flood insurance benefits.
Bottom line: Take a look at this shore protection funding chart covering two decades and the list of Federal studies and projects funded for FY 17 other information you can find on our WaterLog website and see that it's the annual equivalent of a couple of new commercial airliners or highway interchanges, but it produces benefits that far exceed its modest costs. What's equally important but not reflected by any of that information is how much sand we waste by not spending a few extra dollars to keep it in the natural system. More on that subject in the future. For now, I prefer to focus on the pail of sand half full.