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Breakwater Facts

Did you know that before WWII, Long Beach was known as the “Waikiki of Southern California”? We had waves!! There was even a surfing contest here in 1939. So what happened to it since then?

The breakwaters were built:
The Long Beach breakwater was built as a part of the deepwater port project. The construction of the San Pedro and Middle Breakwaters started in 1899 and 1932, and completed in 1912 and 1942 respectively. The construction of the Long Beach Breakwater started in 1941, but was halted in 1943 due to WWII. Construction was resumed in 1946, and completed in 1949. The U.S. Navy moved in to the port of Long Beach in 1940 and used the breakwaters for military purposes.

Effect of the Long Beach breakwater:
Since the breakwater was created, Long Beach’s waterfront has deteriorated. The natural flow of the ocean current and waves had previously assisted in keeping the beaches and waters in Long Beach free from stagnating pollutants. With the breakwater, urban runoff or stormwater from the Los Angeles River gets trapped within the harbor.

“Sink the Breakwater, Restore the Shore”!

The “Sink the Breakwater” project is being led by the nationally recognized and respected environmental group, the Surfrider Foundation. With the Surfrider Foundation guidance, a grassroots effort involving hundreds of Long Beach residents has sprung. The slogan “Sink the Breakwater” was selected for its representation of the project’s goal; to reconfigure the current breakwater which prevents the natural flow of ocean currents in Long Beach Harbor.
It is important to note that the “Sink the Breakwater” project involves only the Long Beach breakwater, which sits between the Queen’s Way Gate to the west and the Alamitos Channel to the east. This project does not affect the San Pedro and Middle breakwaters which protect the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. With the closure of the U.S. Navy base, the Long Beach breakwater has lost its original purpose. It’s time to get rid of the breakwater and bring back our beach community.

Benefits of reconfiguring the Long Beach breakwater:

Reconfiguration of the breakwater could provide several environmental and economic benefits in the City of Long Beach:

  • Healthy ecosystem: Bringing back a natural circulation into the already deteriorating Long Beach Harbor can help improve the water quality. This is an important function considering the Los Angeles River pours tons of pollutants from inland to Long Beach. With improved water quality, resident animals would enjoy a better living condition.
  • Economic benefit to the City: the increase in wave action and the subsequent results of cleaner water will appeal to tourists, which contribute to the city as a key revenue source.
  • Increased property values: residents citywide will benefit from increased property value. Currently Long Beach coastal real estate values are lower than those of similar nearby beach towns. We feel that a more attractive beach will lead to increased property values. Check out our economic study!
  • Surfing in Long Beach: because of the south facing beaches, Long Beach could naturally benefit from the south swells which come in the summer. North swells would be mostly blocked by the ports and San Pedro. The winter west swells would also penetrate into Long Beach to provide surfing.

Possible adverse effects

  • Erosion on the Peninsula: the southeastern end of Ocean Boulevard runs through the middle of Long Beach’s peninsula neighborhood. This narrow stretch of land separates the Alamitos Bay from the Pacific Ocean. For many years, Peninsula residents have suffered from chronic beach erosion. In some years the problem has become so bad as to threaten homes and cause localized flooding. The City of Long Beach spends $300,000-500,000 every year to move sand from around Belmont Plaza to the Peninsula.

The Peninsula Beach reconnaissance study of 2000 concluded that it was likely that the south swells that come through the opening between the Alamitos jetty and the east end of the Long Beach Breakwater contribute to moving sand from the Peninsula toward Belmont Plaza. With or without the breakwater, Peninsula residents face erosion and flooding concerns. While any approaches to this issue would require further study, Surfrider Foundation is committed to including the concerns for protecting the Peninsula in the overall project. In fact, sand replenishment has always been an integral part of the proposed project. In many cases, the State of California replenishes the sand along the California coast.

  • Structures in Long Beach Harbor: the Belmont Pier, oil islands, Shoreline Marina, and other areas around the mouth of the Los Angeles River were developed with the existing wave and currents regime with the breakwater in place. Therefore, these structures would need to be reinforced or modified to withstand the open-ocean swell if the breakwater were reconfigured.

The First Step (achieved 7/5/2005):
We have a full support from the Long Beach City Council for a $100,000 reconnaissance study (read story). You can help by writing your city council and congressman asking to provide funding for this study.

The Second Step (achievd 6/22/2010):  The Long Beach City Council moves forward to the feasibility study based on the results of the reconnaissance study.  City of Long Beach becomes a local sponsor partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the feasibility study to determin the best breakwater reconfiguration options.

The Third Step (in progress):  The Army Corps of Engineers conducts the feasibility study.

The Fourth Step: Final construction design and actual breakwater reconfiguration