How can I protect my property from erosion?
Erosion can be caused by a number of different factors – geography, soil type, shoreline shape, drainage, etc. – which means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Historically, shoreline property owners have built hard armor - such as concrete bulkheads, wood pile bulkheads, rip rap, or shoreline retaining walls - in an attempt to slow erosion, but these hard armoring techniques are now known to be harmful to the marine environment and are not 100% effective.
So it only makes sense that in the last few years there has been a movement towards more natural, and more naturally beautiful shorelines. For example, if your house is set back far enough, and/or you're at a site with low wave energy, your best option may be to leave the shore completely natural. However, if your property is in need of protection, your solution may very well be soft shore protection.
What does soft shore protection look like?
How much does soft shore protection cost?
Soft shore protection ranges in price, but in many cases it can be a more cost-effective solution than building a bulkhead. Since the approach to soft shore protection is to leave the beach as natural - and as beautiful - as possible, the desired result can often be achieved by just planting native vegetation or by the strategic placement of logs on the beach.
Permits: Soft shore protection, like most shorefront modifications, requires a permit in Island County. Contact
Island County Planning & Community Development or take a look at this
flowchart for more information on the process.
Does soft shore protection require a lot of maintenance?
All residential shorelines need some amount of maintenance, but as a natural solution, soft shore generally requires relatively little. Experts have reported that in the first 20 years, only about 4% of projects have needed any maintenance. When it gets to 30-35 years, that number increases to about 15-20%.
When the time does finally come for soft shore maintenance, experts say it's typically about 1/3 the cost of initial installation. Consequently, since soft shore is cheaper to install than bulkheads, that's another round of savings down the road.
Can I still have my view with soft shore protection or do I have to plant tall trees?
Many soft shore protection options allow you to keep your beautiful Northwest view. Of course, trees can provide stability to slopes and shoreline, so removal is not usually recommended. However, there are pruning options that may allow you to maintain that view while keeping your shoreline stable and natural.
How do I know which native plants are right to use?
The Washington Department of Ecology has a
guide for vegetation management on bluffs. Your local Conservation District has expertise and resources for planting and natural resource management at your property.
Snohomish Conservation Districts each hold an annual native plant sale, with pre-orders starting in November-December. For a more personalized approach, you can hire a professional to assess your property for soft shore protection options. They can make customized plant suggestions that work best with your unique geography.
What impact does a bulkhead have on the environment?
My property seems fine now, but I'm worried about sea level rise. Will soft shore protection work for sea level rise and storm surges or do I need a bulkhead?
In the majority of cases, soft shore protection is the preferred type of protection against the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Hard armor, on the other hand locks up sands and sediment, and that's not good for the long term. By keeping the sand and sediment loose, natural cycles will actually help protect the shoreline as the sea level rises. Plus, natural shorelines that diffuse energy instead of deflecting it are more effective at dealing with storm surge waters.
If I have hard armor in place currently, is the damage already done?
Not by a longshot! The removal of bulkheads can be a great option in many places. Already, a number of successful bulkhead removal projects on public and private beaches have resulted in more attractive, accessible and Pacific Northwest-friendly shorelines.
10. How can I be sure soft shore protection will work for my property?
Soft shore protection works for a wide variety of properties all over the Pacific Northwest, so it's likely some component will be a good fit for you. While the strategies mentioned here may work on your property, you should seek professional advice and be sure to apply for the appropriate permits. Check with
Island County Planning & Community Development to address questions specific to your property, and confirm policies, regulations, and required permits.