VIRGINIA BEACH-- The beach isn't just a place to refresh our minds and senses. For coastal communities like Virginia Beach, sand and surf are big business.

But as storms pound the coast, there's less beach to enjoy. What Mother Nature washes out to sea, work crews try to put back by pumping in tons of sand.

Beach replenishment is designed to keep tourism alive and to protect pricey homes and expensive hotels. The work isn't cheap and some say it's an example of why Washington is broke.

Rob Young, a coastal scientist at Western Carolina University, says, 'In today's fiscal climate, the federal government is backing away from funding as many beach nourishment projects as they can.'

Young says in the past decade the federal government has spent $6 billion on beach replenishment projects on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. It is money critics say just washes right back out to sea. 'We've always felt these projects should be paid for as close as possible to where the economic benefit is going to be gained,' Young added.

In 2011, the tourism industry in Virginia Beach set a record, generating a record $1.2 billion in spending. However, with Washington buried in debt, the city asked for $9 million in federal money for its current sand replenishment project.

'I think it's my responsibility, along with our congressional delegation, to do everything we can to get as much money as we send to Washington, back here for use in our community,' Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said.

In Nags Head, where tourism generates a fraction of what is dropped in Virginia Beach, the tiny town pulled off its own beach nourishment project. At $36 million, Nags Head managed the largest non-federally funded beach replenishment project ever.

'I think that everyone has to have, for lack of a better word, 'skin' in the game. It makes us take better care of it. It makes people appreciate it more, and it also wakes people up to the value,' Nags Head Commissioner Renee Cahoon told 13News.

In the future, scientists say coastal communities that rely on beach nourishment now will rely on it forever. And it will only get more expensive to pump sand back onto the beach that is here today and gone tomorrow.

Click here for state-by-state beach replenishment data.

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