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Yes, there are bulkhead alternatives and they are being used more and more often around Puget Sound. When deciding how you will respond to erosion on your waterfront, you will want answers to the following questions...
Before you make a decision, seek unbiased guidance from a shoreline professional - not just a bulkhead installer. When possible, consult several coastal professionals before you decide how to respond to erosion on the waterfront.
If an intervention is necessary to protect a critical structure such as your home, you will also want to find out if bulkhead alternatives are feasible for your specific property. Site conditions will determine the options available for your unique section of the marine shoreline. Characteristics such as bluff conditions, bank height, exposure to open water and wind energy, the surrounding shoreline context, upland conditions, and many other factors determine which options make sense for stabilizing a shoreline. Again, seek unbiased professional guidance before making a decision. Learn about the alternatives, their appropriateness for your site, and the timeline involved. Taking time to learn all you can may save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
See examples of alternatives, or soft shore stabilization projects HERE
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The answer to this question depends on your specific site conditions and should involve a site assessment by a shoreline specialist. If your home is not directly at risk, then it is very likely that the answer will be "no" - there will be little reason to invest in expensive shoreline interventions such as a bulkhead. In fact, it will be difficult to get new shoreline armor permitted if it does not directly protect a primary structure such as a home. Ideally, your shoreline exhibits the typical slow, natural erosion process that supports coastal habitat and functions in Puget Sound. Whatever the outcome of your shoreline assessment, you will want to make certain that you are not contributing to (or accelerating) erosion problems inadvertently. Your property management decisions can cause unintended problems with drainage or slope instability. Understanding how best to manage water and vegetation on your shoreline will limit erosion on your waterfront.
Go back to the Shore Friendly Pierce page for more information on shoreline plants and water management.
Water often has a huge impact on slope stability. You want to be certain that your shoreline drainage strategy or irrigation systems are not leaking or contributing to bank instability or erosion. Drainage management above shoreline slopes can be complex, so we typically recommend using professional guidance to assess and develop a water management strategy that is appropriate for your property.
Some things to keep in mind: if you have any pipe systems (tight lines, subsurface drains, French or curtain drains, etc.), know exactly where they are. Monitor them several times each year for leaks or breaks, so you don't soak extra water into a slope or bluff unintentionally. Remember that our "natural drainage management systems" are incredibly valuable: our native vegetation provides an incredible service with regard to water management. Layers of trees, shrubs and groundcovers will intercept, slow down, take up, and evapotranspire rainfall on your property, thus decreasing the amount of runoff that you need to manage. In contrast, large paved or roof areas and big lawns actually create extra water that you will have to manage in order to avoid contributing to erosion or even slope instability.
Go back to the Shore Friendly Pierce page for more information about shoreline plants and water management.
The webpage and downloadable publication below provide an excellent overview and additional guidance:
As a basic rule, you benefit the most by keeping as much native vegetation (trees, shrubs and groundcovers) as possible on your waterfront (and on your property as a whole). Layers of vegetation provide significant water management and slope stabilization services. Instead of clearing your property and putting in a large lawn to the water's edge, limit the extent of clearing to the area that you will actually use. Hire tree care professionals such as certified arborists to prune your trees for views, and plant additional native trees and shrubs in the unused areas of your property to improve water management and slope stability around you home.Try the International Society of Arborists, Pacific Northwest Chapter, for certified tree care professionals.Try the Washington Native Plant Society for year round local sources for Pacific Northwest native plants.Once each year in winter, check for the Bare Root Native Plant sale here at Mason Conservation District.Read through our Shore Friendly resources for a basic grounding in marine waterfront plant species and landscape management.Don't hesitate to contact staff here at Pierce Conservation District for plant species suggestions, planting plans, and resources to increase the diversity and amount of native vegetation on your waterfront property. We can help you choose the right species to meet your landscaping aesthetics while also benefiting Puget Sound habitat and property management goals.
Making changes to the waterfront is a complex process and typically involves a number of permitting agencies as well as permit fees in addition to the cost of construction. The first place to receive guidance on your proposed shoreline project will be Pierce County Planning and Land Services.
Web: Pierce County Planning and Land Services
Physical address: 2401 South 35th Street, Tacoma, WA
Telephone: (253) 798-7036
Mason County's Planning Department staff will help you understand whether your proposal is feasible, and if so, what is required. Depending on the nature of your project, permits may be required from:
Be aware that Cultural Resource investigations for archaeological sites may also be required.
If your shoreline armor can't be safely removed, you can still contribute to a healthy Puget Sound.
WSU's Shore Stewards program has a great guide full of additional tips, that can be downloaded from the link below or picked up at their office in downtown Shelton:
WSU Shore Stewards - Guide for Shoreline Living
Waterfront impacts vary depending on the specific context of each property, but the cumulative impact of shoreline armor has led to declines in quality habitat for many Puget Sound species. The type and number of impacts depend on the form of armor involved and the nature of the property. Potential (and commonly observed) impacts include:
Learn more: Washington State Department of Ecology website
Source: Gianou, K. 2014. Soft Shoreline Stabilization: Shoreline Master Program Planning and Implementation Guidance. Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program, Washington Department of Ecology, Olympia, WA. Publication no. 14-06-009.)