New app shows the softer side of Puget Sound

The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) is using a new app to show Puget Sound shoreline home and property owners how to protect their property without causing undue damage to the shoreline environment.

The shores of Puget Sound stretch to approximately 2,600 miles, 700 of which are armored by bulkheads and other structures. These bulkheads are walls built by shoreline home and property owners to stabilize and armor the areas where land and water meet. Bulkheads are commonly made from concrete, rock and strategically placed logs.

“This type of shoreline armoring is widespread throughout Washington, including along the Puget Sound as well as stream, river and lake shorelines,” said Curt Hart, communications manager for the Washington State Department of Ecology and Shorelands and Environment Assistance Program.

“We encourage shoreline development practices designed to reduce risk to property and avoid adverse environmental impacts. Where possible, we encourage soft shoreline stabilization techniques over hard armoring approaches like bulkheads and seawalls,” Hart said.

DOE said it recognizes that some hard armoring is necessary to protect existing homes and public structures, such as roads, railroads and bridges, from erosion. However, the department said it also encourages soft armoring because natural erosion along these beaches and bluffs is important to maintaining shoreline ecosystems.

“About 25 percent of Puget Sound’s 2,600 miles of shorelines is currently lined with bulkheads, seawalls and other protective hard armor,” Hart said.

”What many waterfront homeowners don’t realize is that most residential properties along Puget Sound shores are not in high-erosion zones. Most have low to moderate erosion risk, with the specific characteristics of each property contributing to its erosion patterns.”

Hard shoreline armor not only buries part of the beach, it worsens erosion on nearby beaches and harms the delicate ecological balance that ensures the survival of salmon, shellfish and other native species, he added.

“It is important that we all work to restore, protect and preserve salmon and salmon habitat, especially because critically-endangered southern resident orcas need salmon to survive.”

In an effort to demonstrate to home and property owners the effects of hard versus soft armoring, Ecology developed an app and an online tool that shows some of the “before and after” projects around Puget Sound.

A few of these projects have been completed in Kitsap County over the years. The first was completed in 2001 at Manchester Clam Bay and the most recent was completed in 2012 at Anna Smith Park.

The project at Manchester Clam Bay was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and resulted in the construction of a gravel berm and replenishing natural beach nourishment. This included an overall area clean-up of shoreline debris and capping of a toxic cleanup site.

The Anna Smith Park project, sponsored by the Kitsap County Parks Department, involved the removal of a concrete bulkhead at the base of the bluff.

Most of the projects completed in Kitsap County have been at publicly owned beaches.

“We work closely with local government partners throughout Puget Sound to locate and assess public projects involving shoreline areas where softer approaches can be put in place,” Hart said.

The DOE app is constantly being updated and is available for everyone to use, the department said, but its target audience and the user base includes local governments throughout Puget Sound, as well as shoreline home and property owners.

“Many people may have heard the term ‘soft’ or ‘green’ shorelines but haven’t seen many real-world examples, especially in Puget Sound,” Hart said.

”Our app is intended to show ‘before and after’ examples of beaches in our region where hard armoring approaches have been traded for softer techniques. In some cases, the changes are striking – and in all instances, the approach is helping protect beaches for everyone while restoring shoreline ecosystems.”