Oscar Peña, Ventura Harbor district manager, has never seen anything like it in the last 14 years he has been working in the district. In fact, he says that he doesn’t recall seeing anything like the recent rapid accumulation of sand that has built up in the sand trap at the harbor entrance in over 30 years. While the harbor goes through a regular dredging annually around this time of year, because of the powerful surf and currents due to El Niño, the sand trap saw an accumulation of an extra 240,000 cubic yards of sand in the last three to four weeks on top of the regular sand drift.
“We were fine almost through the end of December, didn’t have too many concerns,” he said, but “the storm events early to mid-January, 600,000 to 800,000 cubic yards got filled up very quickly.”
The sand trap accommodates about 600,000 cubic yards of sand drift, but this year’s storms have pushed that well over the limit, causing harbor officials to close off the entrance lest boats and ships become beached. When asked if there was anything that harbor officials could have done to prevent such a buildup, Peña relayed that such a predicament was not predictable.
“We’ve never seen that and couldn’t anticipate it,” he said. When the trap filled up so fast, officials were ready for alternative plans for those in need of local harbor services.
Peña said that 27 vessels have been relocated to the Channel Islands Harbor, including the visiting Tall Ships, Island Packers, emergency/public service-related vessels and commercial fish boats. He said that while the entrance issue has been a concern for fishermen, one of the main catches this time of year is squid. Due to warmer waters with El Niño, however, squid fisheries have been lacking. But that isn’t new. Squid fishermen have been moving north to colder waters for the last two years.
Peña said the biggest hit to the harbor’s economy is the lack of the tourism associated with the Tall Ships but he said that he was still gathering input from harbor business owners.
As Peña and other harbor stakeholders wait for dredging to begin Peña said it could start this week, weather permitting — another lesser talked-about side effect of the strong currents is Ventura’s exposed cobblestone beaches.
Ventura Public Works Director Rick Raives said that while the city has done cobble nourishment in the past, as recently as 2013, placing 4,000 tons of cobble rock along an 800-foot-long section at Surfers Point/ Promenade, which cost $400,000 , the city follows the cobble nourishment with sand placement. There is, however, a naturally occurring cobble nourishment.
“The cobble comes down naturally from the Ventura River and has for a very long time,” Raives said. “It covers a wide area from the river mouth all the way down through the State Beach area. Why you are seeing cobble now is because there’s been severe erosion from the high surf from December through January and all of the sand that was covering this cobble has been washed into the ocean.”
While Ventura’s beaches seem to be disappearing, it’s just a part of a regular cycle, and the sand will return naturally and by public works efforts. Though sand dredged from the Ventura Harbor entrance has been in the past and will be dumped on the beach between the harbor and the Santa Clara River, the sand that accumulates on Pierpont beach is moved north to other beaches.
“Several times during the year we place sand near Surfers Point at the end of the Promenade that helps provide beach nourishment for beaches down coast,” Raives said. “Most of time this is the sand that we remove twice a year from the Pierpont Beach homes required by a court-ordered settlement to abate nuisance sand that builds up next to homes along Pierpont Beach and at the ends of the Pierpont Beach lanes.”
Peña said that the dredging equipment is in place and should begin soon, if it hasn’t already by the date of publication. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the $6 million-plus dredging work will be done by the Manson Construction Company. Only $4.8 million of the total has been allocated thus far, with U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, vying for more federal funding.