Tag Archives: Bulkhead

Foot by foot, shoreline bulkhead removal outpaces construction

It’s always nice when I can report a little good news for Puget Sound recovery. For the second year in row, we’ve seen more shoreline bulkheads ripped out than new ones put in.

Graphic: Kris Symer, Puget Sound Institute
Graphic: Kris Symer, Puget Sound Institute / Data: WDFW

After officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife completed their compilation of permit data for 2015, I can say that 3,097 feet of old armoring were removed, while 2,231 feet were added.

Scientific evidence is mounting that bulkheads cause considerable harm to the shoreline environment, affecting salmon and many other species integral to the Puget Sound food web.

As I pointed out in a story published this week in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, we cannot say whether the armoring removed has restored more valuable habitat than what was destroyed by new structures. But we can hope that’s the case, since state and federal governments have targeted restoration funding toward high priority habitats. They include shorelines used by forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, as well as feeder bluffs, which deliver sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches.

One problem with the data, which officials hope to improve in the future, is that we don’t know whether the new bulkheads being built are the standard concrete or rock bulkheads or the less-damaging “soft-shore” projects. Unlike hard armor, soft-shore projects are designed to absorb wave energy by sloping the beach and placing large rocks and logs in strategic locations. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is a reasonable compromise where armoring is truly needed.

Continue reading

Puget Sound restoration depends on shorelines

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has published the final two parts of a seven-part series on shorelines, bulkheads and nearshore ecosystems.

As we researched the series, I was able to interact with a lot of interesting people — from coastal geologists to property owners. Today’s experts in shoreline ecology credit the late Wolf Bauer with many of the ideas that have become commonplace in shoreline restoration. I was pleased when Washington Sea Grant produced a video tribute to Wolf, who died in January at 103 years old.

One story I wrote, which was published today, involved a boat ride along the eastern shoreline of North Kitsap, which was the perfect setting for describing the geology and natural forces that shape the shoreline. I must thank Hugh Shipman of the Washington Department of Ecology and Paul Dorn of the Suquamish Tribe for their expertise. Check out “Sources of Sand.”

On an earlier boat ride, I joined up with a group of shoreline property owners who were learning about nearshore ecology and the benefits of bulkhead removal. The boat trip, sponsored by the Shore Friendly Kitsap program, is part of a pilot project to introduce the idea of removing bulkheads.

The tour departed from Brownsville and went up through Liberty Bay near Poulsbo, where we observed a mixed assortment of houses and associated shoreline structures. Some of these waterfront homes were protected with massive rock bulkheads; some featured stubby wooden walls; and some were surrounded by vegetation with no bulkhead at all.

“Taking this boat ride lets you see what the natural shoreline should look like,” said Lee Derror, a Tracyton resident who has been contemplating whether to remove her bulkhead, built of creosote timbers.

Cost of removal is a major obstacle for many property owners — unless their bulkhead is already failing. The other major concern is whether alternative “soft shore” protection will be enough to protect their shoreline from excessive erosion.

Leaving Liberty Bay, the boat headed to Port Madison on Bainbridge Island to examine the Powel family property, where a bulkhead was removed in 2013. The 1,500-foot bulkhead removal is believed to be the largest private removal so far in Puget Sound. (See Kitsap Sun, Aug. 29, 2013, or the Shore Friendly webpage.)

Jim Brennan, a consulting marine biologist, told the passengers that accommodations were made to protect a historic boathouse on the Powel property by placing large rocks around the foundation. Also, the beach was sloped back to absorb incoming waves. Other than that, the shoreline is expected to eventually look much the way it did in the 1800s, with a reconnected salt marsh providing food and protection for migrating salmon.

Lee Derror told me that property owners should take a look at their shoreline from the water side, especially if they plan to remove their bulkhead. The Kitsap tour was especially helpful, she said, “because you get to rub elbows with the experts.”

Kitsap’s Shore Friendly pilot project — one of five projects in the Puget Sound region — will help property owners determine if bulkhead removal is right for them. It includes with a visit from a volunteer, followed up by an assessment from an independent geotechnical engineer. The last time I checked, county officials were hoping to offer additional boat rides in the future.

Pilot projects operating in other counties have taken somewhat different approaches, as I described last week in the story “Shoreline Restoration Turns to Private Property Owners.” The second video is from efforts on San Juan Island.

The state’s Shore Friendly website includes web links for people to connect with outreach efforts in their own counties. Go to “Resources in Your Area.”

Below are the seven shoreline stories written by science writer Eric Scigliano and myself for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the online magazine “Salish Sea Currents.” These are published by the Puget Sound Institute, which is associated with the University of Washington. Funding came from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Shoreline bulkheads impose changes on
the natural ecosystem

It goes without saying that wood, rock or concrete bulkheads built along the shoreline are not natural. They certainly don’t look like any structure formed by nature. And when the water is pushing up against them, waves bounce around and splash back instead of rolling up on shore.

Bulkhead

I have never had any trouble understanding some of the problems caused by bulkheads. I imagine little juvenile salmon swimming along the shoreline, working their way toward the ocean. In shallow water, these little fish can stay away from the bigger fish that want to eat them. But bulkheads create a stretch of deeper water, where predatory fish can swim in close and devour the little ones.

I’ve been told that bulkheads cause other problems as well, such as blocking shoreline erosion. But isn’t that what they are designed to do? What’s the problem? As I’ve learned — especially over the past few months — natural erosion provides the sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches. Natural beaches also collect driftwood, which provides additional habitat for a variety of creatures.

As many readers know, I now work half-time for the Puget Sound Institute, a University of Washington affiliate that publishes the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. We’ve been working on a series of articles about bulkheads — formally known as shoreline armoring — and I’m more convinced than ever that bulkheads really do cause problems.

Surf smelt Photo: Wikimedia commons
Surf smelt // Photo: Wikimedia commons

The first story in the series, released this week, describes the effects of bulkheads on spawning habitat for surf smelt and sand lance, two kinds of small fish that are an important food source for salmon, birds and marine mammals. Check out my story, “Spawning habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides.”

As sea levels continue to rise, the high-tide and low-tide lines move to higher elevations on the beach — until the high-tide line reaches the bulkhead. For many bulkheads, the high-tide line is already there. At that point, the rising sea level continues to push the low-tide line to higher and higher elevations, reducing the spawning habitat for fish that lay their eggs in the intertidal area.

This shrinking habitat is known as “coastal squeeze” or “beach squeeze.” Recent studies suggest that where bulkheads are located, Puget Sound could lose 80 percent of this spawning habitat by the turn of the century, based on average predictions of sea-level rise.

On beaches without bulkheads, the high-tide line would move steadily inland, helping to maintain the critical habitat for forage fish, according to Timothy Quinn, chief scientist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Everywhere in Puget Sound, there will be beach squeeze when you don’t allow things to equilibrate on the land side,” he told me. “What used to be exposed beach (during the tidal cycle) will no longer be exposed.”

It turns out that many bulkheads constructed through the years were never needed to prevent erosion, because they were built to protect homes in areas where erosion is minimal. Future stories in our series will cover this issue, including the prospect of removing existing bulkheads to improve shoreline habitats. Unfortunately, sea level rise adds a new twist to the discussion. Still, the best advice when building a new house is to keep the structure back from the water’s edge.

In addition to the general story about beach squeeze, I wrote a sidebar about a study that looked at the effects of this phenomenon on 15 different beaches in the San Juan Islands. See “Forage fish are losing places to lay their eggs.”

Meanwhile, this initial installment of the Shoreline Armoring Series includes a nice piece by science writer Eric Scigliano called “Shoreline armoring’s effect on the food web.” In this story, Eric looks at a broad spectrum of effects caused by bulkheads. He reports on an involved study that focused on a series of paired beaches — one with a bulkhead and one without — located in various parts of Puget Sound.

Most of the studies that we will report on during this series were funded by the Environmental Protection Agency through grants coordinated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan is to release about two additional stories each week over the next two weeks.

Surf smelt spawning zone below low tide mark Illustration: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Surf smelt spawning zone below high tide mark
Illustration: Dan Penttila, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Bulkhead removal called ‘a story of bravery’

“I think it’s a story of bravery and a story of love for this place,” says Martha Kongsgaard at the beginning of the video on this page.

Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, is celebrating the removal of a massive bulkhead on Bainbridge Island. The removal, known as the Powel Shoreline Restoration Project, occurred in the fall of 2012. The outcome was to reconnect a saltwater marsh with the lower shoreline by removing 1,500 feet of man-made bulkhead from property owned by the Powel family.

In the midst of the excavation — which removed rocks, logs and huge chunks of concrete — Babe Kehres, a family member whose house overlooks the site commented, “I think it’s going to be beautiful when it’s done. For me, it’s about taking things back to the way nature wanted them to be.”

Reporter Tad Sooter covered the story for the Kitsap Sun (Aug. 30, 2012). It turned out that removing the bulkhead was less costly than repair — but not by a whole lot. Still, restoring the natural conditions provided tremendous ecological benefits without creating undue shoreline erosion.

The video, by Quest Northwest reporter Sarah Sanborn, shows the excavation in progress and explains why we should celebrate the project and the Powel family. But my favorite part is a slideshow on Sarah’s blog, which shows before and after photos of the shoreline. It is easy to imagine why fish, wildlife and other creatures would prefer the more natural condition.

Shoreline projects gradually restore Puget Sound

We’ve been writing a lot lately about shoreline restoration projects. As with road construction, it seems that the heaviest lifting on restoration projects gets going as summer draws to a close.

About 1,500 feet of bulkhead on Port Madison is being removed by the Powel family with help from Puget Sound Partnership and Bainbridge Island Land Trust. / Photo by Tad Sooter

Notable projects on the Kitsap Peninsula:

Judging from the comments on the stories, some people don’t believe the government should be spending money on environmental restoration when the state and nation are in an economic slump.

Two years ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire made it clear that she believed that the economic troubles did not outweigh the ongoing risks to Puget Sound. I quoted her in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 15, 2010:

Removing an aging bulkhead on Dyes Inlet is expected to improve nearshore habitat at Anna Smith Children’s Park.
Photo by Christina Kereki, Kitsap County

“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out (from the Puget Sound cleanup).”

Investing in cleanup efforts to repair past problems is one thing, the governor said, but the solution is not just costly restoration projects:

“It comes down to individuals like us. We are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

She was talking about reducing stormwater pollution by being careful with household and lawn chemicals, car washing, oil and oil leaks, pet waste and other things.

When it comes to restoration projects, it turns out that the recession was actually a good time to begin many of these costly projects. As I reported in “Water Ways” on Oct. 21, 2010, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress helped pay for more than 600 projects directed to Puget Sound problems. The projects carried a price tag of about $460 million and created nearly 16,000 jobs.

The economic downturn also turned out to be good timing in another way. Construction companies hungry for work offered much lower bids than they would have during economic boom times. In many cases, including the Union River estuary project, bids are still coming in at the low end of cost projections.

Property owners who wish to restore their streams and shorelines are getting help from the government and nonprofit groups. In most cases, these projects would not get done by the property owners alone.

The $460,000 Powel bulkhead removal, for example, became a partnership between the Powel family, the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the Puget Sound Partnership. The partnership’s new executive director, Anthony Wright, stated in a news release:

“It’s exciting to see everyone coming together to do some good for Puget Sound. Puget Sound is going to be healthy again because of people like the Powel family, the land trust and regulatory entities all working together.”

Some people doubt that the restoration projects are doing much good. Some say they simply are not worth the cost. But experts who have studied nearshore ecosystems argue that the ecological connections along the shoreline have been so severely disrupted that restoration is the best hope of saving the Puget Sound ecosystem.

I’ve heard people say that science does not support these kinds of restoration efforts. That’s an opinion not held by most experts, but if you are willing to do some reading, you can come to your own conclusions.

Some of the leading experts in our region have been taking part in the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, which includes a website of technical reports and plans. If you’re a fan of science, like me, you may feel like a kid in a candy shop as you peruse the many reports.

I would recommend the following as a beginning:

The pair of explanatory drawings below is taken from a chapter of the “State of the Science” report mentioned above. See Fish and Invertebrate Response to Shoreline Armoring and Restoration in Puget Sound (PDF 440 KB) by Jason D. Toft, Jeffery R. Cordell, Sarah M. Heerhartz, Elizabeth A. Armbrust, and Charles A. Simenstad.