Shoreline armoring

Tag: Shoreline armoring

Puget Sound meets 2020 bulkhead-removal goal; new indicators will chart the future

In a turnabout that offers hope for Puget Sound’s nearshore ecosystem, old bulkheads are now being removed faster than new bulkheads are being constructed, according to permit figures provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In fact, officials with Puget Sound Partnership recently announced that the agency’s 2020 goal for reducing shoreline armoring had been reached — just barely — by the end of last year. Specifically, the goal, or target, was to remove more bulkheads, seawalls and other armoring (measured in length) than what was added from 2011 to 2020. One caveat: Not all armoring projects were captured in the permit data.

This old bulkhead on Sinclair Inlet near Port Orchard was once part of a residential property. It was removed two years ago to improve shoreline habitat. Photo: C. Dunagan

Now that we’re past 2020, new targets are in the works along with new Vital Signs and indicators of ecosystem health. Last year, 13 revised Vital Signs along with 34 indicators were approved by the Puget Sound Leadership Council, as recommended by staffers. The Leadership Council oversees the Puget Sound Partnership, the agency responsible for coordinating dozens of public and private partners in the recovery of Puget Sound. Reporting on the new indicators is expected to begin early next year.
Targets, which will define goals for future ecosystem improvements, are currently being developed for a few of the revised indicators and should be available before the end of the year, according to a timetable set by the Leadership Council. Work on other targets will continue through next year.
As for all the old indicators and targets, a final report on progress, or lack of such, over the past 10 years will be a major part of the biennial State of the Sound report, scheduled for submission to the governor next week. The document reports on every target with a discussion about the factors that have led to current conditions.
Many experts were surprised that overall shoreline armoring was reduced enough to meet the 2020 target, given that new construction outpaced removal for five of the past 10 years, based on permit data. In fact, from 2011 to 2013, nearly 2.5 miles of new bulkhead construction was matched with barely a mile of removal. But public efforts eventually kicked in to encourage and fund bulkhead removal while discouraging new construction. Last year, total removal reached 0.71 mile, compared to only 0.18 mile of new bulkheads that were built. (Details can be seen by hovering your curser over bars in the chart.)
Among the concerns with shoreline armoring, experts point out that bulkheads often occupy areas of the beach used by forage fish, which are important food for salmon. Hard seawalls also can reduce natural erosion and concentrate wave energy, leading to a beach devoid of sands and gravels, which forage fish use for spawning. Check out article on effects and ongoing coverage of shoreline issues in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Jeff Cordell and Erin Morgan survey sea wrack on a Puget Sound beach. Photo: Megan Dethier

Bulkhead replacement, rather than removal, still dominates shoreline construction, according to the permit data. Some 1.31 miles of armoring was replaced last year. That’s nearly 50 percent more than the total amount that was removed combined with new construction. Thankfully, experts say, an undetermined amount of that replacement work involved taking out hard vertical bulkheads made of logs, rocks or concrete and replacing them with a more natural “soft shore” design. Such soft-shore construction involves reducing erosion by sloping the beach and placing individual logs and boulders in strategic locations to attenuate the wave energy.
In April, the Washington Legislature passed a law that requires shoreline owners who wish to replace a bulkhead to consider designs that reduce erosion with the least impact to the natural environment. The law went into effect in July, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife intends to involve the public in drafting rules to carry out the new law along with a separate law meant to streamline permitting for habitat-improvement projects.
The long-term goal is to replace hard bulkheads with more natural systems capable of better protecting the environment without allowing damage to shoreline houses and other structures. Where homes are built close to shore on small lots, bulkheads may be the only feasible solution, especially in areas where the sea level is rising dramatically due to climate change. Sea-level rise varies from place to place, even within Puget Sound, depending on long-term ground movement. Waterfront owners are beginning to confront these issues, as described in articles in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
In total from 2011 to 2020, the Department of Fish and Wildlife permitted the removal of 4.85 miles of shoreline armor while allowing 4.71 miles of new construction. Although that meets the target and calls for a celebration, WDFW officials are quick to point out that about 715 miles of shoreline remains hardened, so that a variety of habitat problems remain unaddressed.
These numbers also do not account for unknown shoreline modifications built illegally without permits. Such illegal construction and other compliance issues are now getting increased attention from WDFW.
New efforts seek greater compliance
As new laws and regulations come into effect, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has created a new Compliance Division to make sure people have adequate technical assistance for their projects and that they follow all legal requirements.
Four new compliance inspectors have been hired, three with state funds and a fourth with federal funding to focus on the Stillaguamish watershed in North Puget Sound. The Stillaguamish inspections are a special focus of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada, because fishing in both countries has been limited by the low natural returns of salmon to the watershed.
Training for the first compliance inspectors is nearing completion, and they are expected to be in the field in early November. Their responsibilities involve working with property owners and checking on construction in both streams and saltwater shorelines. They will work in conjunction with local habitat biologists (the WDFW officials who sign off on hydraulic project approvals), as well as with uniformed enforcement officers from the agency.
Some new authorities for WDFW came out of recommendations to the Legislature by the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force (PDF 2.9 mb). In 2019, lawmakers strengthened civil penalties for violations of the state’s Hydraulics Code and related permits, thus moving the agency away from criminal citations for shoreline violations. The Legislature also allowed new permits to require mitigation for habitat damage caused by shoreline construction.

This year, other changes were made to require that replacement bulkheads, as well as new bulkheads, be designed to cause the least damage to the shoreline environment. The favored option is to remove a failing bulkhead and restore the beach to a more natural condition. If a shoreline structure is needed, natural (“soft”) materials are preferred over solid retaining walls. When solid walls are necessary, they should be located upland of the existing bulkhead wherever possible.
To help shoreline owners understand their options, experts have created a technical document called “Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines” along with a less technical booklet called “Your Marine Waterfront” (PDF 12.2 mb). Another change this year is to allow a streamlined process for habitat-recovery projects. A pilot program is getting underway to establish a revised permitting process for habitat improvements.
Randi Thurston, who is managing the new Compliance Division, said the incoming compliance inspectors, supported with the increased legal authorities, will provide “boots on the ground” when it comes to checking on permitted projects, investigating reported violations and launching patrols to locate and take action against construction done without permits.
At the same time, the Legislature has built upon the success of an older pilot program that provides financial and technical support to property owners who wish to remove shoreline armoring or work on other habitat-improvement projects. Originally developed in 2014 with federal funding, the Shore Friendly grant program continues to work at the local level throughout Puget Sound, operating through six county-based organizations along with the Northwest Straits Foundation, which serves six counties.
Shore Friendly is now funded by the state’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, which also continues to fund competitive grants for individual projects. The Legislature this year has enhanced ESRP funding with $15.7 million directed toward three dozen prioritized projects (PDF 148 kb).

For further information about efforts to protect and restore nearshore habitat, check out WDFW’s webpage on Puget Sound recovery. For technical reports about the effectiveness of grant-funded projects aimed to improve nearshore habitats and other ecosystem conditions, check out Puget Sound Institute’s synthesis reports.
Strategic planning with new shoreline indicators

As the old indicators and their 2020 targets are phased out, new indicators are being designed to better describe ecosystem conditions. For that reason, the shoreline-armoring indicator — which measures construction and removal of bulkheads rather than habitat condition — has been removed from the list of future indicators.
The old indicator — net change in permitted shoreline armoring — may still be reported as a so-called intermediate measure of progress, but other habitat measures will be used to describe changes in shoreline conditions, according to Nathalie Hamel, who heads up Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs reporting program.
It is important to understand that state permits don’t capture all shoreline construction taking place, Nathalie told me. In addition, the “replacement” of shoreline armoring can represent a wide variety of habitat changes, all lumped into one category. For example, replacement of a concrete wall with the right type of “soft shore” protection could bring a major habitat improvement. But if one concrete wall is replaced with another, the result could be no improvement at all. For these reasons, the measure of armoring construction, removal and replacement should be modified in some ways if it is to be retained, Nathalie said.
Despite the measure’s shortcomings and the newly approved indicators, reduction in shoreline armoring is still considered an important goal. That’s one reason that strategies to reduce armoring were retained in an updated Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy (with links), completed this past July.
The revised indicators (PDF 131 kb) of shoreline habitat, now listed as a Vital Sign called “beaches and marine vegetation,” still include an indicator for the total area of eelgrass in nearshore habitats. New indicators include:

  • Extent of forest cover in nearshore marine riparian areas,
  • Floating kelp canopy area,
  • Percent of feeder bluffs in functional condition, and
  • Short and long-term eelgrass site status.

While these conditions are generally measured as part of an agency’s ongoing work, some refinements are needed to report numbers and trends. Also, definitions of “functional condition” and “site status” may need to be clarified.
Other indicators that could be helpful in describing habitat conditions but still needing considerably more work include:

  • Drift cells in functional condition,
  • Miles of intertidal beach in functional condition, and
  • Understory kelp abundance and condition.

(Drift cells, by the way, refer to sections of a shoreline where sands and gravels move naturally in the same direction.)
At the larger scale, the revision of Vital Signs has retained six Vital Signs that report on biophysical measurements: birds, estuaries, freshwater, marine water, orcas, and toxics in aquatic life.
Just as “shoreline armoring” was converted to a Vital Sign called “beaches and marine vegetation,” the Vital Sign for “land development and cover” was converted to “forests and wetlands.” New indicators were added for every Vital Sign, as described in an 87-page report titled “Revisions to Puget Sound Vital Signs and Indicators” (PDF 11.9 mb).
Since human-related Vital Signs and indicators were developed after extensive studies before the latest update, no immediate changes were proposed to the Vital Signs for the statutory goals of “Healthy Human Population” and “Vibrant Human Quality of Life.”

Low-interest loans could help shoreline property owners finance improvements

As ongoing research confirms the importance of shoreline habitat throughout Puget Sound, experts are looking for new ways to help shoreline property owners pay for bulkhead removals.
One emerging idea, which could be established as a formal initiative within a year, consists of a special shoreline loan program that could provide low-interest loans to residential property owners. The owners could then make payments over decades with less strain on their family budgets.
A soon-to-be-released report examines the possibilities of a state-sponsored revolving-fund loan program. This type of program would begin with seed money provided through a legislative appropriation or one of the existing grant programs that provide funding for Puget Sound restoration. As the loans are repaid, the incoming money goes back out to finance new loans, so the fund becomes “revolving.” New money could be added to increase the number of loans available each year.

The money comes back around. Click on image to enlarge // Graphic: John Linse, UW Creative Communications

Over time, a relatively small initial investment could result in a large number of projects being completed, according to lead author Aimee Kinney of the Puget Sound Institute, who conducted the feasibility study in consultation with experts from Northern Economics and Coastal Geologic Services. The report is scheduled to be published in a few weeks in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Aimee will discuss the project in a March 31st  webinar mentioned at the bottom of this page. The project is supported by the Habitat Strategic Initiative, which receives funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Financial modeling indicates that $4.5 million in seed money could fund $9.7 million in projects over the first 15 years of the loan program. Further incentives could be offered to property owners through existing programs, such as the successful Shore Friendly effort, which works through local entities to provide technical expertise and/or grants for shoreline improvements.
Property owners throughout the Puget Sound region have taken advantage of Shore Friendly assistance, particularly as aging bulkheads near the end of their useful life. Since 2014, more than 1,400 homeowners have consulted with Shore Friendly experts. At last count in 2018, 284 have received erosion assessments; 23 have received assistance with engineering design and permitting; and 49 have been awarded small grants for construction.
Options for shoreline owners include replacing a hard bulkhead with more natural “soft shore” protection, such as anchoring logs in the beach to attenuate wave energy. Sometimes a qualified shoreline assessment reveals that existing structures are not at risk from waves or rising waters, so the shoreline can be returned to its natural condition with minimal effort.
Shore Friendly areas showing major projects funded by the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. Click on image (PDF 3 mb) for details and map key.
Graphic: ESRP

Given rising sea level due to climate change, some owners are opting for longer-term solutions, such as raising a house on its foundation or moving the structure farther back from the water. Those kinds of solutions could be eligible for funding through the revolving-fund loan program under review, Aimee said.
Removing a bulkhead has direct benefits for residential property owners, such as improved access to the beach, increased recreational values and a more natural esthetic. Meanwhile, the benefits to the ecosystem can be enormous, depending on the location, by alleviating the damage caused by bulkheads:

  • A narrowing of the tidelands area, thus reducing habitat for organisms that live in the substrate and for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, that spawn directly on the beach.
  • Alteration of the natural movement of gravels, sands and fine sediment that can result in a hardened, barren beach no longer suitable for the normal array of species, including forage fish, an important food for salmon.
  • Increased water depth along the shoreline, which allows for larger fish to prey on migrating juvenile salmon,
  • Loss of driftwood and natural debris in the upper tidal region where a multitude of small species play a key role in the food web, and
  • Elimination of the transition zone at the upper edge of the beach where shorebirds forage and nest among the vegetation.

(For the latest scientific information about shoreline issues, check out this week’s conference listed at the bottom of this page.)
Based on state permits for shoreline armoring, more bulkheads are being removed than constructed in terms of overall length, but about a quarter of all shorelines in Puget Sound remain in a hardened, unnatural condition.
The new feasibility report cites a 2014 survey of Puget Sound residents who own homes with shoreline armoring. A significant number expressed a willingness to remove their shoreline-stabilization structure but indicated that cost was a major barrier:

  • 18 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove all or a portion of armor and replace it with soft-shore protection,
  • 14 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove a portion of hard armor and let the beach naturalize, and
  • 8 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove all hard armor and let the beach naturalize.

A related technical analysis, which considers the funding needs for various types of projects, concluded that there is a demand for six to eight loans each year. That demand is expected to increase in future years as high-tide surges overtop more bulkheads as a result of sea-level rise and the growing severity of storms.
The study goes on to consider the potential structure and administration of a revolving loan program, with an examination of six existing loan programs — including a Washington state enterprise that helps homeowners replace their failing septic systems.
If details can be worked out with the support of one or more state agencies, a proposed loan program could be introduced to the Legislature or funded through a separate grant as early as next year, Aimee said.
Meanwhile, in the current legislative session, the Senate has approved a measure (Senate Bill 5273) that would require the least-impacting, technically feasible bank protection when someone goes to replace a bulkhead or other shoreline-stabilization structure. The bill would require a site assessment to determine the least-impacting project — unless exempted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources.
The federal government is now playing an enhanced role in the repair and replacement of shoreline armoring, following a court determination that the Army Corps of Engineers has authority over construction up to the high-water mark. Furthermore, the National Marine Fisheries Service has begun to require “offsets” for damage caused by shoreline construction — even when an owner is simply replacing a structure with no significant change. For details see:

These evolving regulations at both the state and federal levels provide a new impetus for bulkhead removal or soft-shore replacement, Aimee said, and the result could be a growing demand for low-interest loans to make the work more affordable for shoreline property owners.
This week’s conference and March 31 webinar

Low-interest loans could help shoreline property owners finance improvements

As ongoing research confirms the importance of shoreline habitat throughout Puget Sound, experts are looking for new ways to help shoreline property owners pay for bulkhead removals.
One emerging idea, which could be established as a formal initiative within a year, consists of a special shoreline loan program that could provide low-interest loans to residential property owners. The owners could then make payments over decades with less strain on their family budgets.
A soon-to-be-released report examines the possibilities of a state-sponsored revolving-fund loan program. This type of program would begin with seed money provided through a legislative appropriation or one of the existing grant programs that provide funding for Puget Sound restoration. As the loans are repaid, the incoming money goes back out to finance new loans, so the fund becomes “revolving.” New money could be added to increase the number of loans available each year.

The money comes back around. Click on image to enlarge // Graphic: John Linse, UW Creative Communications

Over time, a relatively small initial investment could result in a large number of projects being completed, according to lead author Aimee Kinney of the Puget Sound Institute, who conducted the feasibility study in consultation with experts from Northern Economics and Coastal Geologic Services. The report is scheduled to be published in a few weeks in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Aimee will discuss the project in a March 31st  webinar mentioned at the bottom of this page. The project is supported by the Habitat Strategic Initiative, which receives funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Financial modeling indicates that $4.5 million in seed money could fund $9.7 million in projects over the first 15 years of the loan program. Further incentives could be offered to property owners through existing programs, such as the successful Shore Friendly effort, which works through local entities to provide technical expertise and/or grants for shoreline improvements.
Property owners throughout the Puget Sound region have taken advantage of Shore Friendly assistance, particularly as aging bulkheads near the end of their useful life. Since 2014, more than 1,400 homeowners have consulted with Shore Friendly experts. At last count in 2018, 284 have received erosion assessments; 23 have received assistance with engineering design and permitting; and 49 have been awarded small grants for construction.
Options for shoreline owners include replacing a hard bulkhead with more natural “soft shore” protection, such as anchoring logs in the beach to attenuate wave energy. Sometimes a qualified shoreline assessment reveals that existing structures are not at risk from waves or rising waters, so the shoreline can be returned to its natural condition with minimal effort.
Shore Friendly areas showing major projects funded by the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. Click on image (PDF 3 mb) for details and map key.
Graphic: ESRP

Given rising sea level due to climate change, some owners are opting for longer-term solutions, such as raising a house on its foundation or moving the structure farther back from the water. Those kinds of solutions could be eligible for funding through the revolving-fund loan program under review, Aimee said.
Removing a bulkhead has direct benefits for residential property owners, such as improved access to the beach, increased recreational values and a more natural esthetic. Meanwhile, the benefits to the ecosystem can be enormous, depending on the location, by alleviating the damage caused by bulkheads:

  • A narrowing of the tidelands area, thus reducing habitat for organisms that live in the substrate and for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, that spawn directly on the beach.
  • Alteration of the natural movement of gravels, sands and fine sediment that can result in a hardened, barren beach no longer suitable for the normal array of species, including forage fish, an important food for salmon.
  • Increased water depth along the shoreline, which allows for larger fish to prey on migrating juvenile salmon,
  • Loss of driftwood and natural debris in the upper tidal region where a multitude of small species play a key role in the food web, and
  • Elimination of the transition zone at the upper edge of the beach where shorebirds forage and nest among the vegetation.

(For the latest scientific information about shoreline issues, check out this week’s conference listed at the bottom of this page.)
Based on state permits for shoreline armoring, more bulkheads are being removed than constructed in terms of overall length, but about a quarter of all shorelines in Puget Sound remain in a hardened, unnatural condition.
The new feasibility report cites a 2014 survey of Puget Sound residents who own homes with shoreline armoring. A significant number expressed a willingness to remove their shoreline-stabilization structure but indicated that cost was a major barrier:

  • 18 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove all or a portion of armor and replace it with soft-shore protection,
  • 14 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove a portion of hard armor and let the beach naturalize, and
  • 8 percent said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to remove all hard armor and let the beach naturalize.

A related technical analysis, which considers the funding needs for various types of projects, concluded that there is a demand for six to eight loans each year. That demand is expected to increase in future years as high-tide surges overtop more bulkheads as a result of sea-level rise and the growing severity of storms.
The study goes on to consider the potential structure and administration of a revolving loan program, with an examination of six existing loan programs — including a Washington state enterprise that helps homeowners replace their failing septic systems.
If details can be worked out with the support of one or more state agencies, a proposed loan program could be introduced to the Legislature or funded through a separate grant as early as next year, Aimee said.
Meanwhile, in the current legislative session, the Senate has approved a measure (Senate Bill 5273) that would require the least-impacting, technically feasible bank protection when someone goes to replace a bulkhead or other shoreline-stabilization structure. The bill would require a site assessment to determine the least-impacting project — unless exempted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday before the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources.
The federal government is now playing an enhanced role in the repair and replacement of shoreline armoring, following a court determination that the Army Corps of Engineers has authority over construction up to the high-water mark. Furthermore, the National Marine Fisheries Service has begun to require “offsets” for damage caused by shoreline construction — even when an owner is simply replacing a structure with no significant change. For details see:

These evolving regulations at both the state and federal levels provide a new impetus for bulkhead removal or soft-shore replacement, Aimee said, and the result could be a growing demand for low-interest loans to make the work more affordable for shoreline property owners.
This week’s conference and March 31 webinar

Repairs of bulkheads, docks and other structures now involve habitat assessment

In a major policy shift by federal authorities, waterfront maintenance and reconstruction projects are undergoing increased scrutiny — not only for their environmental impacts during and after construction but for effects that ripple through time.
The change, imposed by NOAA Fisheries to protect threatened and endangered species, requires compensation for environmental damage calculated over the life of a shoreline structure. So compensation comes into play even where a structure is merely replacing an old one. Previously, in most cases, the agency did not require environmental compensation for repair and replacement projects permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers — unless the projects were some type of expansion.

West Seattle’s complex shoreline exemplifies the need to find new ways to hold the line on declining habitat. // Photo: Aimee Kinney, Puget Sound Institute

This change in policy is welcomed by environmental and tribal leaders, who say ongoing reconstruction of bulkheads, docks and other shoreline structures perpetuates the well-documented habitat damage that starts when a structure is first built. Requiring compensation for maintenance and reconstruction is a way to hold the line in the face of ongoing development, they say.
“This is NOAA really standing up for the resource,” declared Fran Wilshusen, habitat services director for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “It has been a long time coming, but it is a very positive change.”
The environmental compensation, known as “offsets” by NOAA Fisheries, requires project proponents to fund habitat improvements nearby but separate from their projects, or else purchasing “credits” offered by Puget Sound Partnership or other organizations involved in habitat restoration.
Shoreline property owners, marina managers and contractors say the cost of paying for such compensation will discourage needed upgrades, many of which actually improve the environment — such as replacing creosote pilings and bulkheads with nontoxic materials.
“I’m afraid it is counterproductive if you really want people to do the right thing,” said Bob Wise, who has been waiting three years to obtain a permit to upgrade Port Hadlock Marina, near Port Townsend, with environmentally sound materials.
Adding a time element
A growing body of scientific research confirms the importance of the nearshore habitat to the survival of endangered species, including salmon and southern resident killer whales, said Jennifer Quan, branch chief for South Puget Sound in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
Consequently, starting in 2017, regional experts at NOAA Fisheries determined that Corps permits for maintenance and reconstruction projects should no longer be allowed to bypass extensive review by way of “informal consultation” under the Endangered Species Act. Such a review requires a finding of “not likely to adversely affect” listed species — something that can no longer be justified, Quan said.
The move to “formal consultation” between the agencies requires a more rigorous investigation into the impacts of each project.
Time became a key element in the new analysis by NOAA Fisheries, which reasoned that structures all have a usable lifespan. If not rebuilt, then a structure eventually will be removed, one way or another. Work that extends the life of a structure thus creates an add-on environmental impact.
The concept of time is incorporated into a credit/debit system for estimating environmental impact. Note the condensed time scale. (Click to enlarge) // Graphic: NOAA Fisheries

To quantify environmental impacts into a common “currency,” NOAA Fisheries relied on studies such as the Habitat Equivalency Analysis, long used to estimate natural resource damages caused by oil spills and other destructive events. Subsequently, the agency developed a “debit/credit conservation calculator” to add up all the effects on shoreline habitat, good and bad, resulting from a specific project.
While rebuilding a dock would result in an environmental debit, the number would be less if built with a grated deck to allow light to penetrate to the water below, thus improving conditions for eelgrass and migrating salmon. The debit can be offset with credits for reducing the size of the structure or improving shoreline habitat elsewhere, either on-site or off-site. Credit also is given for removing the old structure before its useful life is over.
Alternatively, a project could purchase credits to erase the deficit under new programs being developed through cooperative agreements. One is with the Puget Sound Partnership, which is now selling credits and will use the money for environmental restoration. Other programs involve Hood Canal Coordinating Council for projects in Hood Canal along with Blue Heron Slough Conservation Bank for projects in an area that extends from the Snohomish River estuary.
Environmental advancement
As part of its review, NOAA Fisheries found that the overall impact of ongoing shoreline projects puts Chinook salmon in jeopardy of extinction — a so-called jeopardy finding. The result also reflects an increased risk to the survival of the endangered southern resident orcas, which rely largely on Chinook for food.
“This is huge,” said Wilshusen of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “This is the first time that we have had a jeopardy finding without a dead fish. We all know that degraded habitat is having a major effect on salmon. Now we have the science to back it up. We can’t have any more habitat loss. We really have to have some gain.
“The tribes were not involved in developing this new approach,” she added, “but we are very optimistic.”
A southern resident killer whale hunts a Chinook salmon. Photograph: NOAA Fisheries.
A southern resident killer whale hunts a Chinook salmon. // Photo: NOAA Fisheries

The extinction of Chinook salmon and killer whales is a real risk, Wilshusn said, not to mention the decline of a host of other species, all dependent on each other and the habitat where they live. Changing the present course is essential.
“Hopefully, we are coming to realize that we have run out of space to continue our lives as usual,” she continued. “We are moving into an awkward period of transition, as we go from a pollution-based economy to a life-giving economy.”
Tim Trohimovich, director of planning and law for Futurewise, an environmental organization, said he would not be surprised if the concept of adding a time element in measuring environmental impact is picked up in permitting by Washington state and by other federal offices across the country.
“One reason for doing this is the dire straits that the southern residents are in,” he said. “Other species are in deep trouble throughout the United States, and I think we are going to see more of this approach at the federal, state and local levels.”
Programmatic approach and new review
After NOAA Fisheries decided that it was legally obligated to conduct more thorough reviews of shoreline projects — including maintenance and reconstruction — the agency was confronted with a much heavier workload with limited staff.
A biological opinion groups together 39 proposed nearshore projects planned for the locations shown here. // Map: NOAA Fisheries

To smooth the approval process for new applications, officials began working on a “programmatic consultation” to be used in quantifying the impacts from all sorts of projects. Debits and credits would be based on project location and design parameters, such as length of bulkhead, number of pilings and so on. A written document spelling out “reasonable and prudent” methods of avoiding the critical jeopardy finding would require buy-in from the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
So far, officials with NOAA Fisheries and the Corps of Engineers have not come to agreement on the so-called Salish Sea Nearshore Programmatic. Letters between NOAA and the Corps reflect numerous concerns about technical issues as well as questions about measuring environmental impacts — such as how one determines the useful life of an existing structure. Negotiations continue between the two agencies.
As permit applications piled up, NOAA Fisheries grouped together 39 nearshore projects in Puget Sound for which the Army Corps of Engineers had requested consultation since May of 2018. The variety of projects ranged from commercial marinas to dredging projects, with about a third being repair or replacement of shoreline bulkheads. The resulting biological opinion (PDF 7 mb), released in November, includes an overall environmental analysis along with design details for each of the 39 projects.
After working with project proponents to reduce environmental impacts, the document shows final debits and credits, with a net “offset” needed to ensure no net loss of habitat function. It turns out that 12 of the projects provided enough environmental benefits so that no further action is needed. The other 27 projects have debits ranging from -2.1 for a small moorage project to -2,043 for an extensive bulkhead/breakwater replacement. The 27 projects have a combined deficit of -8,158.
To eliminate the deficit for an individual project, proponents may revise their plans to reduce the deficit or propose on-site or off-site habitat-restoration projects to gain the needed credits. Another option is to purchase credits outright from an approved organization that would use the money to conduct environmental restoration equivalent to the damage quantified by the debit/credit calculator.
Purchasing credits
Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for coordinating ecosystem recovery in Puget Sound, has launched a pilot project for selling conservation credits. Approved by NOAA Fisheries, the “Partnership Nearshore Credits Program” will initially conduct its restoration work by removing creosote pilings, which emit toxic chemicals that degrade water quality and damage nearby habitat. The work will be conducted in cooperation with an existing creosote-removal program being run by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The cost of each credit currently stands at $800, according to Ahren Stroming, special projects assistant at the Puget Sound Partnership. The cost of the credits will be re-evaluated each year, he noted.
As the program moves forward, moneys received could be directed to other restoration projects, possibly even large projects currently funded through state and federal grant programs. The state’s Recreation and Conservation Office will manage the fiscal aspects of the new credits program for Puget Sound Partnership.
Other organizations also are working to set up programs to sell credits that align with the NOAA’s debit/credit calculator. One is Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which already sells mitigation credits under a multi-agency in-lieu-fee mitigation program, which has been used by the Navy to offset environmental damage from construction work at the Bangor submarine base. Another is Blue Heron Slough Conservation Bank, which conducts restoration work in the vicinity of the Snohomish River Estuary near Everett.
Project delays and increased cost
In 2017, Bob Wise was faced with an aging Eagle Harbor Marina on Bainbridge Island. It was time for an upgrade, he said, and he went to work on a total rebuild to improve conditions for tenants while better protecting the marine habitat. Steel pilings replaced creosote, grated decks replaced solid wood, and new floats replaced Styrofoam that was chipping away.
Wise says he had no trouble obtaining an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project, and the environmental upgrade has been widely heralded. The work complements the certification of Eagle Harbor Marina as a “clean marina” under the Clean Marina Washington program.
A year later, Wise applied for another permit to do the same thing at Port Hadlock Marina, which he also owns with his wife Lisa. “We’re going to put literally the best marina in the Puget Sound in Port Hadlock,” Wise proudly told The Leader newspaper in Port Townsend.
This time, he confronted a federal roadblock, as NOAA Fisheries had shifted from informal to formal consultations for maintenance and replacement projects in the face of growing concerns about the recovery of salmon, orcas and other marine species in Puget Sound.
Port Hadlock Marina // Photo: Washington Department of Ecology

According to Wise, NOAA officials told him they would soon have a new programmatic consultation process that would calculate how much environmental compensation he would need to provide to get his project underway.
“That was three years ago,” he said. “I have been sitting here, saying there are things at this marina that are harming the environment, and I want to take them out.”
The delay has been infuriating for dozens of project proponents waiting to obtain permits for all sorts of projects.
Logan Brown, president of the company Marine Floats in Tacoma, says he is contracting with eight or nine of the 39 project proponents in the group of applications now being batch-processed. Waiting for the projects to get reviewed is one thing, he said. Now it is a matter of trying to make sense of the result.
“The fault is in the logic that if they do not permit a replacement, then (the structure) will just disappear at some point,” he said. “In fact, the impact is increased. As these structures get older, they deteriorate faster, and the materials break down and spread, causing greater environmental impact.”
Brown said the science behind the change has never been adequately explained to those affected by the outcome, and none of the findings have been subject to public review, despite potentially millions of dollars on the line.
“They are trying to roll this out on the fly with practically no oversight or meaningful input from the industry,” he said. “Nobody wants to come down on the wrong side of environmental protection, but our position is that this regulation is not only stopping upkeep but it may be creating safety concerns at some marinas. Because of this approach, some environmental improvements are not taking place.”
The increased cost and complication of permitting may cause less responsible owners to keep patching up their facilities without doing the environmentally responsible upgrades, observers say. Some worry that the program will lead to work being done without required permits.
Assuming that he can obtain the needed credits at $800 apiece, Wise says the new permit will cost him $120,000 more than he expected while planning his upgrade.
“That’s not a trivial amount of money,” he said. “We’re just a family-owned business. I don’t know how this will fit into my model.”
Financing the project is a major issue, he said, and banks loan money on tangible assets, not on credits derived from a conservation calculator.
“I thought we were all ready to go,” he said, “but now we will have to think about it.”
With concerns running high for salmon and orcas, nobody disputes the need for environmental restoration. Yet to be seen, however, is whether the new permitting approach to maintenance and repair can overcome potential legal hurdles and become a smoothly running operation.
——-
Public information
NOAA Fisheries will hold online public workshops on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28 to explain the conservation calculator that the agency developed to assess the value of nearshore habitat. Both workshops will run from 9 to 11 a.m. Details will be posted on the webpage Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator.

Repairs of bulkheads, docks and other structures now involve habitat assessment

In a major policy shift by federal authorities, waterfront maintenance and reconstruction projects are undergoing increased scrutiny — not only for their environmental impacts during and after construction but for effects that ripple through time.
The change, imposed by NOAA Fisheries to protect threatened and endangered species, requires compensation for environmental damage calculated over the life of a shoreline structure. So compensation comes into play even where a structure is merely replacing an old one. Previously, in most cases, the agency did not require environmental compensation for repair and replacement projects permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers — unless the projects were some type of expansion.

West Seattle’s complex shoreline exemplifies the need to find new ways to hold the line on declining habitat. // Photo: Aimee Kinney, Puget Sound Institute

This change in policy is welcomed by environmental and tribal leaders, who say ongoing reconstruction of bulkheads, docks and other shoreline structures perpetuates the well-documented habitat damage that starts when a structure is first built. Requiring compensation for maintenance and reconstruction is a way to hold the line in the face of ongoing development, they say.
“This is NOAA really standing up for the resource,” declared Fran Wilshusen, habitat services director for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “It has been a long time coming, but it is a very positive change.”
The environmental compensation, known as “offsets” by NOAA Fisheries, requires project proponents to fund habitat improvements nearby but separate from their projects, or else purchasing “credits” offered by Puget Sound Partnership or other organizations involved in habitat restoration.
Shoreline property owners, marina managers and contractors say the cost of paying for such compensation will discourage needed upgrades, many of which actually improve the environment — such as replacing creosote pilings and bulkheads with nontoxic materials.
“I’m afraid it is counterproductive if you really want people to do the right thing,” said Bob Wise, who has been waiting three years to obtain a permit to upgrade Port Hadlock Marina, near Port Townsend, with environmentally sound materials.
Adding a time element
A growing body of scientific research confirms the importance of the nearshore habitat to the survival of endangered species, including salmon and southern resident killer whales, said Jennifer Quan, branch chief for South Puget Sound in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
Consequently, starting in 2017, regional experts at NOAA Fisheries determined that Corps permits for maintenance and reconstruction projects should no longer be allowed to bypass extensive review by way of “informal consultation” under the Endangered Species Act. Such a review requires a finding of “not likely to adversely affect” listed species — something that can no longer be justified, Quan said.
The move to “formal consultation” between the agencies requires a more rigorous investigation into the impacts of each project.
Time became a key element in the new analysis by NOAA Fisheries, which reasoned that structures all have a usable lifespan. If not rebuilt, then a structure eventually will be removed, one way or another. Work that extends the life of a structure thus creates an add-on environmental impact.
The concept of time is incorporated into a credit/debit system for estimating environmental impact. Note the condensed time scale. (Click to enlarge) // Graphic: NOAA Fisheries

To quantify environmental impacts into a common “currency,” NOAA Fisheries relied on studies such as the Habitat Equivalency Analysis, long used to estimate natural resource damages caused by oil spills and other destructive events. Subsequently, the agency developed a “debit/credit conservation calculator” to add up all the effects on shoreline habitat, good and bad, resulting from a specific project.
While rebuilding a dock would result in an environmental debit, the number would be less if built with a grated deck to allow light to penetrate to the water below, thus improving conditions for eelgrass and migrating salmon. The debit can be offset with credits for reducing the size of the structure or improving shoreline habitat elsewhere, either on-site or off-site. Credit also is given for removing the old structure before its useful life is over.
Alternatively, a project could purchase credits to erase the deficit under new programs being developed through cooperative agreements. One is with the Puget Sound Partnership, which is now selling credits and will use the money for environmental restoration. Other programs involve Hood Canal Coordinating Council for projects in Hood Canal along with Blue Heron Slough Conservation Bank for projects in an area that extends from the Snohomish River estuary.
Environmental advancement
As part of its review, NOAA Fisheries found that the overall impact of ongoing shoreline projects puts Chinook salmon in jeopardy of extinction — a so-called jeopardy finding. The result also reflects an increased risk to the survival of the endangered southern resident orcas, which rely largely on Chinook for food.
“This is huge,” said Wilshusen of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “This is the first time that we have had a jeopardy finding without a dead fish. We all know that degraded habitat is having a major effect on salmon. Now we have the science to back it up. We can’t have any more habitat loss. We really have to have some gain.
“The tribes were not involved in developing this new approach,” she added, “but we are very optimistic.”
A southern resident killer whale hunts a Chinook salmon. Photograph: NOAA Fisheries.
A southern resident killer whale hunts a Chinook salmon. // Photo: NOAA Fisheries

The extinction of Chinook salmon and killer whales is a real risk, Wilshusn said, not to mention the decline of a host of other species, all dependent on each other and the habitat where they live. Changing the present course is essential.
“Hopefully, we are coming to realize that we have run out of space to continue our lives as usual,” she continued. “We are moving into an awkward period of transition, as we go from a pollution-based economy to a life-giving economy.”
Tim Trohimovich, director of planning and law for Futurewise, an environmental organization, said he would not be surprised if the concept of adding a time element in measuring environmental impact is picked up in permitting by Washington state and by other federal offices across the country.
“One reason for doing this is the dire straits that the southern residents are in,” he said. “Other species are in deep trouble throughout the United States, and I think we are going to see more of this approach at the federal, state and local levels.”
Programmatic approach and new review
After NOAA Fisheries decided that it was legally obligated to conduct more thorough reviews of shoreline projects — including maintenance and reconstruction — the agency was confronted with a much heavier workload with limited staff.
A biological opinion groups together 39 proposed nearshore projects planned for the locations shown here. // Map: NOAA Fisheries

To smooth the approval process for new applications, officials began working on a “programmatic consultation” to be used in quantifying the impacts from all sorts of projects. Debits and credits would be based on project location and design parameters, such as length of bulkhead, number of pilings and so on. A written document spelling out “reasonable and prudent” methods of avoiding the critical jeopardy finding would require buy-in from the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
So far, officials with NOAA Fisheries and the Corps of Engineers have not come to agreement on the so-called Salish Sea Nearshore Programmatic. Letters between NOAA and the Corps reflect numerous concerns about technical issues as well as questions about measuring environmental impacts — such as how one determines the useful life of an existing structure. Negotiations continue between the two agencies.
As permit applications piled up, NOAA Fisheries grouped together 39 nearshore projects in Puget Sound for which the Army Corps of Engineers had requested consultation since May of 2018. The variety of projects ranged from commercial marinas to dredging projects, with about a third being repair or replacement of shoreline bulkheads. The resulting biological opinion (PDF 7 mb), released in November, includes an overall environmental analysis along with design details for each of the 39 projects.
After working with project proponents to reduce environmental impacts, the document shows final debits and credits, with a net “offset” needed to ensure no net loss of habitat function. It turns out that 12 of the projects provided enough environmental benefits so that no further action is needed. The other 27 projects have debits ranging from -2.1 for a small moorage project to -2,043 for an extensive bulkhead/breakwater replacement. The 27 projects have a combined deficit of -8,158.
To eliminate the deficit for an individual project, proponents may revise their plans to reduce the deficit or propose on-site or off-site habitat-restoration projects to gain the needed credits. Another option is to purchase credits outright from an approved organization that would use the money to conduct environmental restoration equivalent to the damage quantified by the debit/credit calculator.
Purchasing credits
Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for coordinating ecosystem recovery in Puget Sound, has launched a pilot project for selling conservation credits. Approved by NOAA Fisheries, the “Partnership Nearshore Credits Program” will initially conduct its restoration work by removing creosote pilings, which emit toxic chemicals that degrade water quality and damage nearby habitat. The work will be conducted in cooperation with an existing creosote-removal program being run by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The cost of each credit currently stands at $800, according to Ahren Stroming, special projects assistant at the Puget Sound Partnership. The cost of the credits will be re-evaluated each year, he noted.
As the program moves forward, moneys received could be directed to other restoration projects, possibly even large projects currently funded through state and federal grant programs. The state’s Recreation and Conservation Office will manage the fiscal aspects of the new credits program for Puget Sound Partnership.
Other organizations also are working to set up programs to sell credits that align with the NOAA’s debit/credit calculator. One is Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which already sells mitigation credits under a multi-agency in-lieu-fee mitigation program, which has been used by the Navy to offset environmental damage from construction work at the Bangor submarine base. Another is Blue Heron Slough Conservation Bank, which conducts restoration work in the vicinity of the Snohomish River Estuary near Everett.
Project delays and increased cost
In 2017, Bob Wise was faced with an aging Eagle Harbor Marina on Bainbridge Island. It was time for an upgrade, he said, and he went to work on a total rebuild to improve conditions for tenants while better protecting the marine habitat. Steel pilings replaced creosote, grated decks replaced solid wood, and new floats replaced Styrofoam that was chipping away.
Wise says he had no trouble obtaining an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project, and the environmental upgrade has been widely heralded. The work complements the certification of Eagle Harbor Marina as a “clean marina” under the Clean Marina Washington program.
A year later, Wise applied for another permit to do the same thing at Port Hadlock Marina, which he also owns with his wife Lisa. “We’re going to put literally the best marina in the Puget Sound in Port Hadlock,” Wise proudly told The Leader newspaper in Port Townsend.
This time, he confronted a federal roadblock, as NOAA Fisheries had shifted from informal to formal consultations for maintenance and replacement projects in the face of growing concerns about the recovery of salmon, orcas and other marine species in Puget Sound.
Port Hadlock Marina // Photo: Washington Department of Ecology

According to Wise, NOAA officials told him they would soon have a new programmatic consultation process that would calculate how much environmental compensation he would need to provide to get his project underway.
“That was three years ago,” he said. “I have been sitting here, saying there are things at this marina that are harming the environment, and I want to take them out.”
The delay has been infuriating for dozens of project proponents waiting to obtain permits for all sorts of projects.
Logan Brown, president of the company Marine Floats in Tacoma, says he is contracting with eight or nine of the 39 project proponents in the group of applications now being batch-processed. Waiting for the projects to get reviewed is one thing, he said. Now it is a matter of trying to make sense of the result.
“The fault is in the logic that if they do not permit a replacement, then (the structure) will just disappear at some point,” he said. “In fact, the impact is increased. As these structures get older, they deteriorate faster, and the materials break down and spread, causing greater environmental impact.”
Brown said the science behind the change has never been adequately explained to those affected by the outcome, and none of the findings have been subject to public review, despite potentially millions of dollars on the line.
“They are trying to roll this out on the fly with practically no oversight or meaningful input from the industry,” he said. “Nobody wants to come down on the wrong side of environmental protection, but our position is that this regulation is not only stopping upkeep but it may be creating safety concerns at some marinas. Because of this approach, some environmental improvements are not taking place.”
The increased cost and complication of permitting may cause less responsible owners to keep patching up their facilities without doing the environmentally responsible upgrades, observers say. Some worry that the program will lead to work being done without required permits.
Assuming that he can obtain the needed credits at $800 apiece, Wise says the new permit will cost him $120,000 more than he expected while planning his upgrade.
“That’s not a trivial amount of money,” he said. “We’re just a family-owned business. I don’t know how this will fit into my model.”
Financing the project is a major issue, he said, and banks loan money on tangible assets, not on credits derived from a conservation calculator.
“I thought we were all ready to go,” he said, “but now we will have to think about it.”
With concerns running high for salmon and orcas, nobody disputes the need for environmental restoration. Yet to be seen, however, is whether the new permitting approach to maintenance and repair can overcome potential legal hurdles and become a smoothly running operation.
——-
Public information
NOAA Fisheries will hold online public workshops on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28 to explain the conservation calculator that the agency developed to assess the value of nearshore habitat. Both workshops will run from 9 to 11 a.m. Details will be posted on the webpage Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator.

Everything counts when helping young salmon survive their risky journey to the sea

When considering the amazing migration of salmon, we often talk about their long journey from the ocean, guided by smell, to the very stream where they first emerged from the gravel.
But if we’re talking about salmon recovery — such as avoiding extinction for Puget Sound Chinook — we must focus equally on the first leg of their journey — from stream to ocean. That’s when vulnerable young fish die by the millions.
The survival rate for juvenile salmon depends to a large extent on the physical condition of the shoreline, which is why I became interested in writing about the Seattle seawall. Check out “New Seattle seawall improves migratory pathway for young salmon.”
I also wrote about a proposal to expand the goal of “no net loss” of shoreline function to one of “net ecological gain.” I’ll review the historical context of that idea in the second half of this blog post.
The new Seattle seawall is nothing like a natural shoreline, of course, but it might offer the fish more food and protection from predators than what they had before, according to monitoring studies. The improved habitat might just bridge the gap between places with more natural conditions along their migration route.
[iframe align=”right” width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/89795956″%5D
An animation produced as a student project in 2013 shows one problem with solid seawalls and bulkheads: the exposure to predators. The video, shown on this page, was done by Beryl Allee and John Summerson for a NOAA Fisheries program called “Bridging art with science to protect salmon habitat.”
If habitat improvements can be made along a solid wall, as in Seattle, there’s no telling what improvements might be made along less damaged stretches of Puget Sound shoreline. Work done previously at Olympic Sculpture Park (PDF 1.5 mb) north of the new seawall appears to offer some additional refuge for the migrating salmon, many of which are coming out of the Green/Duwamish River.
As I describe in the story, researcher Kerry Accola has used sonar to describe the behavior of salmon as they swim along the Seattle seawall. Stark shadows still seem to slow their progress, but the problem has diminished since glass blocks were installed to transmit daylight under the piers.
At night, the glass blocks convey artificial light from the bustling city streets above. I can’t help but wonder if that artificial light might be impeding the nightly progress of the salmon, which seem to swim faster at night. I’m not sure of the logistics, but an interesting experiment might be to cover the glass blocks at night to see how the fish respond.
The use of sonar to monitor juvenile salmon migration might someday provide important behavioral data along the entire migration route in Puget Sound. That would be one way to identify and eliminate the worst impediments encountered by each species of salmon.
Howard Hanson Dam
Meanwhile, improvements for downstream fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam on the Green River are expected to increase the number of juvenile salmon migrating through Seattle. The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the dam, has agreed to move forward with a design for a fish-passage structure, as called for in a biological opinion from NOAA Fisheries. A new fishway for downstream migration is needed to avoid a jeopardy ruling under the Endangered Species Act, the agency said.

Howard Hanson Dam Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The fish-passage project would open about 100 miles of high-quality stream habitat for spawning and rearing by threatened Chinook and other species, according to a news release from the Corps.
“We’re optimistic that new fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam, with continued habitat restoration in the more developed lower and middle Green River, will boost fish populations toward recovery,” said Kim Kratz, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “That will, in turn, support tribal treaty fishing rights and benefit critically endangered southern resident killer whales.”
I don’t think we’ll have a good estimate of cost until the new design is complete, but it is expected to be upwards of $100 million.
Many of the fish that emerge from the newly accessible habitat will eventually pass by the Seattle waterfront, offering further justification for the improvements made there. The same goes for other Puget Sound shorelines. By the way, very few Chinook streams exist on the Kitsap Peninsula, yet the entire shoreline is considered critical habitat for Puget Sound Chinook. (See map of freshwater and saltwater critical habitat for Puget Sound Chinook produced by NOAA’s Environmental Response Management Application.)
A new “net-gain” policy
My story about the seawall also discussed a proposal to change the state policy of “no net loss” of shoreline function to a policy of “net gain.” How that might work will be the subject of a study by the Washington Academy of Sciences.
The term “no net loss” originates not with shorelines but with wetland conservation efforts under the George H.W. Bush administration in 1989. For years, wetlands had been filled and drained at an enormous rate — nearly a half-million acres per year nationwide — causing an alarming loss of fish and wildlife habitat.
A 20-member National Wetlands Policy Forum was convened to address the problem. The group included three governors, among them Washington state Gov. Booth Gardner. One of the many recommendations of the forum was to stop the bleeding with a national policy of “no net loss of wetlands.”
Former President George H.W. Bush / Official presidential photo

The goal was announced during a speech that President Bush, an avid hunter, delivered to a convention of Ducks Unlimited on June 8, 1989:
“I want to ask you today what the generations to follow will say of us 40 years from now. It could be they’ll report the loss of many million acres more, the extinction of species, the disappearance of wilderness and wildlife; or they could report something else. They could report that sometime around 1989 things began to change and that we began to hold on to our parks and refuges and that we protected our species and that in that year the seeds of a new policy about our valuable wetlands were sown, a policy summed up in three simple words: “No net loss.” And I prefer the second vision of America’s environmental future.”
From those goals, four federal agencies moved forward to develop a coordinated wetlands delineation manual for protecting wetlands under federal law.
Before 1989 was over, Gov. Gardner established through executive order an interim goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. He added a long-term goal to “increase the quantity and quality of Washington’s wetlands resource base.”
The following year, he issued another executive order with more detail about how to mitigate for lost wetlands. The original “no-net-loss” directive still stands, though it was never codified into state rules. But the second directive was later expanded into our current rules for wetlands under the “critical areas” section of the Growth Management Act.
Former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner

In 2003, when new rules came out to protect Washington’s shorelines, the concept of “no net loss of ecological functions” was incorporated into the actual regulation, codifying “no net loss” for the first time in Washington state. See the explanation in the “Shorelines Master Program Handbook” (PDF 724 kb) by the Department of Ecology.
The concept of “net ecological gain” is one that has been debated in England, where it has taken hold in some municipalities under a national goal of increasing “natural capital” over the next 25 years. Read the position paper by the Environmental Industries Commission.
England has embraced the concept of “leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation” and is working on ways to implement the idea, as described in the position paper.
In Washington state, the net-gain concept was advanced by the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force. Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, a member of the task force, proposed a bill (HB 2550) to make “net gain” a formal policy of the state. Her fellow lawmakers, faced with many unanswered questions, agreed to conduct a $256,000 study to see how “net gain” might become incorporated into state law.

Shoreline armoring in Puget Sound gets new scrutiny from the Army Corps of Engineers

Shoreline bulkheads, which can damage beaches and destroy fish habitat, could come under more extensive review and permitting as the result of a revised shoreline policy announced last week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The revised policy (PDF 163 kb), which resulted from a federal lawsuit, now requires a Corps of Engineers permit for shoreline construction below the high-tide line. The previous line of jurisdiction was lower on the beach, effectively exempting most shoreline armoring from federal permits.

Shoreline Armoring, such as this bulkhead on Maury Island, can reduce forage fish spawning, affecting the Puget Sound food web, experts say. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

One of the key results of the policy change is to bring shoreline armoring under the purview of the Endangered Species Act, said Amy Carey of Sound Action, one of three environmental groups bringing the lawsuit against the Corps.
“Until this change was made, the Corps was not looking at the impacts to endangered salmon and orcas (from bulkheads),” Amy said, noting that shoreline armoring can reduce spawning habitat for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance. Since salmon depend on forage fish and orcas depend on salmon, shoreline armoring can affect a significant part of the food web.
The effort to get the Corps to change its policy and better protect the shoreline ecosystem has been a five- to six-year battle, Amy told me. The new policy better aligns the federal shoreline jurisdiction (under the Clean Water Act) with state and local jurisdictions (under the Shoreline Management Act and the State Hydraulics Code).
The Endangered Species Act, which requires studies of biological effects before a project is approved, is a powerful “tool” for protecting the environment, Amy said, and it’s not directly available to state agencies.
State agencies, including the Puget Sound Partnership, have made a concerted effort to inform the public about damage from shoreline armoring. State and local regulations have been updated to prevent new bulkheads unless absolutely necessary to protect a structure from shoreline erosion. Shoreline property owners have been encouraged to replace old bulkheads with more natural methods of erosion control, such as large logs and rocks anchored to the beach. This is called soft-shore protection.
The Washington Legislature also has focused on the issue, last year granting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife increased authority to oversee bulkhead construction for single-family homes. And this year, lawmakers are considering a bill to require property owners to analyze the feasibility of soft-shore protection before replacing an aging bulkhead.
Previously, the Seattle District of the Corps, a federal agency, declined to regulate construction — including shoreline armoring — proposed in areas above a line defined by the average of the highest tide of each day — known as “mean higher high water” since there are two high tides each day. Most bulkheads are built above this line.
A revised policy by the Army Corps of Engineers expands the agency’s jurisdiction up to the high tide line, not shown above but akin to “ordinary high water” — that is from MHHW to OHW, an area where most bulkheads are built. // Graphic: Puget Sound Institute

About one out of four high tides in the Seattle area exceed the mean higher high water mark used by the Corps since 1977, according to legal pleadings by the environmental groups. A more suitable line for regulation would bring about 8,600 acres under Corps’ jurisdiction, the plaintiffs argued.
By moving the line of jurisdiction higher on the beach, the Corps is now expected to review most proposed bulkhead projects, along with other shoreline structures. Docks, floats and other construction close to the water have been subject to federal permitting since the Clean Water Act went into effect in the 1970s.
Amy told me that over the past five years more than 500 permits for shoreline protection were approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, but only a few of those came under federal jurisdiction.
The new line of jurisdiction is called simply the “high tide line,” defined by changes in vegetation, deposits of shells and debris, along with other evidence marking the highest tides under normal conditions. That’s similar to state jurisdiction under the Hydraulics Code, which goes up to “ordinary high water.”
While the term “high tide line” has been defined in federal regulations since 1977, the Army Corps of Engineers has used various tidal datum points in different jurisdictions, according to the lawsuit. Seattle and Portland districts have used “mean higher high water;” the Alaska district uses “extreme high tide;” and the Los Angeles district uses an on-site determination of the highest tide of the year.
Several agencies have complained that the Seattle District’s use of mean higher high water neglects potential damage to the shoreline environment.
“The ecological effect is that extensive area of intertidal and estuarine habitat that are important to ESA-listed salmon and multiple other species of shellfish and other marine life are not adequately protected,” stated a 2013 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Later, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Gov. Jay Inslee called for a change in jurisdictional policy to better protect listed salmon.
In 2016, a group of experts from the Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied the issue and recommended using the “mean average high tide,” said to be a more predictable standard and “reasonably representative of the intersection of the land and the water’s surface at the maximum height reached by the rising tide.”
In 2018, Major General Scott Spellmon, commander of the Corps’ Northwest Division, rejected that recommendation in a memorandum, noting that other jurisdictional regulations were still under review by federal agencies and the courts as part of the debate over the so-called “waters of the U.S.” Spellmon said it would not be a good use of Corps’ resources to continue the discussion about the tidal jurisdiction boundary.
In 2018, three environmental groups, led by attorneys for Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Spellmon’s decision to continue with the status quo in violation of the Clean Water Act’s specific references to the high-tide line.
“Puget Sound is one of the nation’s aquatic crown jewels, a vibrant and diverse ecosystem that sustains one of the nation’s most dynamic economies,” states the legal complaint from Sound Action, Friends of the San Juans and the Washington Environmental Council.
“The deleterious effects of shoreline armoring on the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem are well documented,” the complaint continues. “Among many other impacts, hardening or armoring of natural shorelines alters critical ecological functions such as erosion and sediment movement, causing beaches to lower, narrow, and eventually disappear. There is broad scientific consensus that this replacement of upper beach areas with hard barriers negatively impacts important habitat for plants and animals.”
Federal attorneys moved to dismiss the case, saying a decision on the shoreline jurisdiction was still pending and not subject to legal action. Last February, U.S. District Judge James Robart rejected that argument, saying Spellmon’s memo constituted a federal decision, if only a temporary one. Thus the judge established conditions for a full trial on the matter.
In October, the Seattle District of the Corps informed the judge of its intent to rescind the Spellmon memo and eliminate the policy of using mean higher high water as the jurisdictional boundary. Last Friday, the Corps followed through with a “special public notice” saying that it has removed all references to mean higher high water from its Seattle District website and regulatory documents.
“The District will locate the HTL (high tide line) through case/location-specific consideration of all factors identified in the (legal definition),” the notice states. “The District may consider all available tidal data relevant to the HTL definition when making jurisdictional determinations.”
The revised policy will bring federal jurisdiction and regulations to structures built above the previous boundary line up to the observed line formed by the highest tides. That will affect mostly bulkheads but sometimes stairs to the beach and other structures.
“If an application is pending with the Corps, applicants will be notified if any changes to application materials or additional information is required to continue processing the application,” Patricia Graesser, chief of public affairs for the Seattle District, wrote me in an email. “We encourage permit applicants to work directly with their project manager with any questions or concerns about specific applications.”
An information meeting on the issue is scheduled for March 19 at the Seattle District office.
Avoiding new shoreline armoring and removing existing armoring wherever possible has been a longtime goal of the Puget Sound Partnership, which was created in 2007 to coordinate recovery of Puget Sound. A “Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy,” adopted in 2018, spells out a series of programs and actions to reduce shoreline impacts — including incentives, technical support, revised regulations and increased enforcement of existing rules. (See Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.)
The issue of shoreline jurisdiction by the Army Corps of Engineers was discussed by a multi-agency review team that developed the strategy, noted Aimee Kinney, policy analyst for the Puget Sound Institute, who worked on the strategy.
Some team members strongly supported increased Corps oversight, because it would institute a formal review by federal experts involved in endangered species protections, allow tribal engagement in mitigation and increase fines for violations, Aimee told me.
On the other hand, some members were concerned that the federal process could inhibit efforts to remove existing shoreline armor by increasing reporting requirements for soft-shore replacements, she said. Going through a Corps permit will take more time, add complexity and increase cost. Also, unless followed up with a significant increase in enforcement, the extra federal scrutiny might encourage some people to illegally avoid permits altogether, she said.
One question is whether the Seattle District has adequate staff to handle the increased workload for permits, Aimee noted. The Seattle District averaged just 17 permits per year for “bank stabilization” from 2012 to 2017, she said. Meanwhile, in 2015 and 2016, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an average of 165 permits per year for new, replacement or repair of marine-shoreline armoring, she said, pointing out that this is just a rough approximation of what the Corps may be facing because of differences between the two agencies.
To streamline the process, the Corps could develop a “regional general permit” to cover most conditions in Puget Sound, thus allowing for rapid approval, provided that a project is built to specified standards, including mitigation.
In the end, moving the line of jurisdiction a short way up the beach might not seem like a big change, but it could have profound effects on future shoreline-armoring projects and the survival of certain Puget Sound species.
For information about the effects of shoreline armoring, check out the special section in Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. For information about Puget Sound Implementation Strategies, including the Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy, start with this Puget Sound Partnership page.
Composite view, before and after, of a 2013 bulkhead-removal project at Penrose Point State Park. Such projects improve beach habitat and should be encouraged, experts say.
Image: Kris Symer, PSI, from photos by Kristin Williamson, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group

Shoreline monitoring toolbox webinar

Re-posted from the Habitat Strategic Initiative blog:

Please join the Habitat Strategic Initiative for a webinar on Thursday, February 13th at 12pm

Join the [pugetsoundestuary.wa.gov]Habitat Strategic Initiative for a webinar highlighting the results of one of our investments that is advancing progress on the Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy, Shoreline Monitoring Toolbox Protocol Implementation and Data Management (NTA 2016-0119).  

The Shoreline Monitoring Database: bringing data together to inform shoreline restoration in the Salish Sea

The Shoreline Monitoring Database (shoremonitoring.org) was developed starting in 2018, and now includes data management capability for four protocols featured in the Shoreline Monitoring Toolbox – beach wrack, insects, logs and riparian vegetation. The database allows for data from different academic research groups, agencies and citizen science groups, and from different monitoring sites and projects, to come together to inform the effectiveness of shoreline restoration as well as explore status and trends. Data can be uploaded into a master database that combines multiple datasets, to ensure data longevity and data compatibility across groups. Data can also be downloaded, and a map displays locations of data collection to aid in user engagement. During the presentation, we will provide an overview of the database, and a discussion of plans for future analyses, data visualizations, and incorporation of additional protocols and older datasets. To learn more about this project, visit the project factsheet.

 Project Leads: Jason Toft, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Science; Kate Litle, Washington Sea Grant

Webinar Details
Date:
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Time: 12:00pm, Pacific Time
Click here to Join the Meeting

Meeting Number: 809 162 272
Meeting Password:
dvV35iYM

This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement PC-01J22301 through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

Please contact Jennifer Griffiths (jennifer.griffiths@dfw .wa.gov) or Cynthia Catton (cynthia.catton@dnr.wa.gov) with general questions regarding the Habitat Strategic Initiative and Cynthia Harbison (cynthia.harbison@dfw.wa.gov) regarding the webinar. Follow the work of all the Strategic Initiatives on our blog.

 
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Shoreline monitoring toolbox webinar

Re-posted from the Habitat Strategic Initiative blog:

Please join the Habitat Strategic Initiative for a webinar on Thursday, February 13th at 12pm

Join the [pugetsoundestuary.wa.gov]Habitat Strategic Initiative for a webinar highlighting the results of one of our investments that is advancing progress on the Shoreline Armoring Implementation Strategy, Shoreline Monitoring Toolbox Protocol Implementation and Data Management (NTA 2016-0119).  

The Shoreline Monitoring Database: bringing data together to inform shoreline restoration in the Salish Sea

The Shoreline Monitoring Database (shoremonitoring.org) was developed starting in 2018, and now includes data management capability for four protocols featured in the Shoreline Monitoring Toolbox – beach wrack, insects, logs and riparian vegetation. The database allows for data from different academic research groups, agencies and citizen science groups, and from different monitoring sites and projects, to come together to inform the effectiveness of shoreline restoration as well as explore status and trends. Data can be uploaded into a master database that combines multiple datasets, to ensure data longevity and data compatibility across groups. Data can also be downloaded, and a map displays locations of data collection to aid in user engagement. During the presentation, we will provide an overview of the database, and a discussion of plans for future analyses, data visualizations, and incorporation of additional protocols and older datasets. To learn more about this project, visit the project factsheet.

 Project Leads: Jason Toft, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Science; Kate Litle, Washington Sea Grant

Webinar Details
Date:
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Time: 12:00pm, Pacific Time
Click here to Join the Meeting

Meeting Number: 809 162 272
Meeting Password:
dvV35iYM

This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement PC-01J22301 through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

Please contact Jennifer Griffiths (jennifer.griffiths@dfw .wa.gov) or Cynthia Catton (cynthia.catton@dnr.wa.gov) with general questions regarding the Habitat Strategic Initiative and Cynthia Harbison (cynthia.harbison@dfw.wa.gov) regarding the webinar. Follow the work of all the Strategic Initiatives on our blog.

 
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Report cover

Survey shows Puget Sound residents prefer natural shorelines to armored ones

By Jeff Rice, Puget Sound Institute
Shoreline armoring not only damages the ecosystem, it may also impact our ‘sense of place’ and enjoyment of the environment, according to a 2019 report from Oregon State University. The report is based on surveys of both property owners and non-property owners in Puget Sound.
More than 66% of survey respondents indicated that natural attributes were a strong part of their connection to Puget Sound’s shorelines. The report’s author, Dr. David Trimbach of Oregon State University’s Human Dimensions Lab, argues that environmentally damaging shoreline development such as seawalls and bulkheads could diminish that connection.
“When survey respondents were asked to select their ‘ideal’ and ‘least ideal’ shorelines, they selected hard shorelines as their least ideal… and natural or soft shorelines as their ideal,” Trimbach writes. About 67% of respondents preferred natural shorelines.
Scientific studies have shown that shoreline armoring along Puget Sound’s beaches destroys habitat for salmon and forage fish, leads to beach erosion and lowers overall biodiversity. Approximately 30% of Puget Sound’s shorelines are considered to be armored.
According to Trimbach, understanding Puget Sound residents’ preference for more natural shorelines will have implications for shoreline management and policy. “Recognizing that shorelines are a shared natural resource with ecosystem services or benefits should be considered when making key shoreline decisions, including coastal development and armoring decisions,” he writes in the report.
The survey included 413 adult residents of Puget Sound’s 12 counties. 51.6% of the respondents were female and 47.9% were male. Respondents ranged from ages 18 to 85 or older. Questions focused on regional ’sense of place’ — a state-designated Vital Sign of Puget Sound health related to “place attachment, place identity, place meaning, and place dependence.”
Additional findings include (as quoted from the report):

  • “66.3% of respondents considered wildlife-natural areas as a high priority for shoreline use.”
  • “62.2% of respondents agreed that they felt an attachment to the region’s shorelines.”
  • “Respondents prioritized shoreline activities associated with maintaining habitat for fish and wildlife (70% high) and protecting wetlands for public benefits (51.6% high).”
  • “Respondents preferred shorelines being used for wildlife-natural areas (66.3% high priority) and public parks and facilities (53% high priority).”
  • “When asked to identify the item that most bothers them, survey participants responded that litter (43%), crowds (19%), and (general) site abuse (16%) were the most bothersome shoreline issues.”

You can view the full report on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.