Baykeeper Update

Defending the Bay from Excessive Sand Mining

On Tuesday, August 25, Baykeeper presented arguments in the California Court of Appeal in our case to stop excessive sand mining in San Francisco Bay, and a ruling will be issued within 90 days. For years, private companies have been permitted to mine too much sand from the Bay, contributing to erosion at Ocean Beach and threatening important Bay species like Dungeness crab. Yet in 2012, the California agency that oversees sand mining, the State Lands Commission, approved a large increase in Bay sand mining. Baykeeper then filed suit to stop the increase.

In 2014, a California state court ruled against Baykeeper, and gave a green light to a large increase in Bay sand mining. The ruling was made despite scientific research showing that extracting more sand from the Bay would exacerbate the already-serious erosion problem at Ocean Beach. Baykeeper appealed the ruling in November last year, and now our appeal will have its day in court.

“The sand on the floor of San Francisco Bay is a resource that belongs to the public, and the state is charged with ensuring it’s used properly on our behalf. Allowing private companies to extract sand in an unsustainable way isn’t an appropriate use of this public resource,” said Baykeeper Staff Scientist Ian Wren. “Plus, excessive sand mining damages two of our region’s natural treasures, the Bay and Ocean Beach, which also belong to the public.”  

Beaches outside the Golden Gate like Ocean Beach are naturally replenished by sand that washes out of the Bay over time. Ocean Beach is eroding in part because sand mining depletes the amount of sand that washes out the Golden Gate from upstream sources in the Delta and Sierra Nevada.

Further erosion from increased sand mining could threaten the Great Highway, cause a major city sewer line to rupture, and wash away sensitive habitat for shorebirds.

Excessive sand mining not only contributes to erosion of coastal beach habitat, but also disrupts the Bay’s ecosystem by impacting bottom-dwelling invertebrates and shellfish. A primary mining area is between the San Francisco waterfront and Angel Island, which is used by juvenile Dungeness crab, sturgeon, and other important Bay species. Another is Suisun Bay, a critical habitat for sturgeon, ducks, and many other species of fish and water birds.

In addition to our court case, Baykeeper has also advocated with regulators to stop excessive Bay sand mining. Earlier this year, we petitioned the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to revise its draft permit allowing a dramatic increase in the amount of sand that can be mined from the Bay. We also urged the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to lower the amount of sand mined from the Bay. As a result of our efforts with both regulatory agencies, the amount was reduced by 25%. But in order to protect the Bay and Ocean Beach, the amount needs to be reduced by 85%. Baykeeper appealed the Regional Board’s decision to the State Board, and we are also challenging federal regulators over their new permit allowing excessive sand mining.  

Sand mining isn’t the only cause of erosion of the Bay and Ocean Beach. Baykeeper recently filed a lawsuit to stop methods of dredging in the Bay that contribute to shoreline erosion and harm endangered fish. We’ll keep working to both stop harmful dredging practices and for limits on sand mining that protect Ocean Beach and the Bay.