March 20, 2012

The Once and Future Beach in Santa Cruz

The San Lorenzo River isn't notorious for its length. If you stretched it out on a ruler it wouldn't be fifty miles long. But when winter rains reach Santa Cruz County the San Lorenzo collects a prodigious amount of water from the steep hills on either side of the narrow valley it courses through. Characteristically enough, 17 inches of rain fell in Ben Lomond, about ten miles upriver from Santa Cruz, between Tuesday of last week and the weekend. All the other spots along the river, Felton and Brookdale and Boulder Creek, contributed their fair share as well, and the river, which carries hardly a creek's worth of water in the summertime, surged heartily out of the enclosing valley as is its annual habit and down onto the marine floodplain where Santa Cruz sits waiting to receive it year after year.

The river goes where it can, and has had its way with Santa Cruz many times. This year the river took an unexpected turn on its way across the last two hundred yards or so of beach to its meeting with Monterey Bay. Instead of barrelling directly through the sandbar that normally blocks its mouth in the summer, it swerved hard right, threatening the foundations of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Earthmoving equipment was brought in to build a levee of sorts to persuade the river back onto its normal course, but the river and the ocean tide are combining to make that a hard sell.

The San Lorenzo River passes under a railroad trestle on its way to the shore of Monterey Bay, March 20, 2012
A temporary levee attempts to contain the San Lorenzo River, March 20, 2012

Ocean waves lap the black bulkhead of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, March 20, 1012

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