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Climate and Environment

Here's What Bolsa Chica State Beach Looks Like After Major Flooding

View of a road with the beach on the right and a fence on the left, with a highway on the other side. Orange cones line the road and the pavement is caved in on the left-hand side.
The access road at Bolsa Chica State Beach was severely damaged during flooding on Jan. 24, 2023.
(Jill Replogle
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Earlier this week, the ocean poured across the bike trail and parking lots along Bolsa Chica State Beach in Orange County, then continued across the access road and the Pacific Coast Highway to join the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

That's almost three football fields away, said Orange County state park superintendent Kevin Pearsall. "It was a huge tide."

The massive flow of water shut down the PCH in Huntington Beach and set off a swirl of videos and images capturing the scene on social media.

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The unusually intense flooding is forcing authorities to recognize that changes to the coastal environment may be a current, not future, challenge. "We've been told for a few years 'anticipate changes' and they are definitely happening right now," Pearsall said.

The flooding happened just after what are known as "King Tides" — the highest tides of the year. During high tides, especially if combined with a storm surge, it's not uncommon for the Pacific Coast Highway to flood along this low-lying, narrow dry stretch.

But Tuesday, when Pearsall said the waves washed over the highway on-and-off for six hours, there was no storm.

"It was actually a beautiful day," he said. "No one expected that high tide to go where it went on that random, enjoyable day."

Parking Lots Closed, Access Road Undermined

On Friday, sand covered some of the parking lots at the park's northern end. Parts of the access road — newly repaved in 2012 — had caved in where it runs parallel to the highway.

    • Yes, but parking may be a challenge. 800 spots are off-limits due to the damage.
    • Visitors in vehicles can still access the southern section of Bolsa Chica.
    • The bike path along the state beach remains open.

"I haven't ever seen this kind of damage," said Anne Gollay, who stopped her bike to survey the damage. Gollay said she'd been biking along this stretch of beach for close to four decades.

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"It's obviously going to have to take some long-term solution because it's happening more and more over the years," she said of the near-annual flooding here.

A Glimpse Of Costly Changes To Coastal Environment

Pearsall said geotechnical engineers were scheduled to survey the damage to the access road next week to evaluate why it crumbled. Then, they can contemplate the best way to sustainably rebuild. "I think it would be naive or surprising if we just correct what was already in place. I think we will prepare for what may come again," he said.

Pearsall said around 800 parking spaces were currently off-limits — a setback for the public, the state beach is one of the most popular in Southern California.

"It is one of the most successful revenue-generating day-use parks in our state park system," he said. "So it's an important asset for us to look at and make sure that we can give access to our visitors."

Visitors in vehicles can still access the southern section of Bolsa Chica, and the bike path is open all along the three-mile-long state beach. Pearsall said he wants to open up the northern parking lots as soon as possible, but it's too early to know how long it will take to repair the road for safe access.

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