The latest numbers on shoreline armoring


By Jeff Rice

Washington state has released the latest statistics for Puget Sound’s shoreline armoring Vital Sign, comparing armoring creation and removal in 2017.

Those familiar with the Vital Sign will know that the state’s goal is to finally see, by 2020, a net decrease in the length of shoreline armoring throughout Puget Sound. Armoring such as seawalls, bulkheads and other structures has been shown to harm salmon and forage fish. It damages beaches and diminishes the overall health of the shoreline [Read “Hitting a wall: can we fix Puget Sound’s beaches” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound]. To date, about 29% of Puget Sound’s shoreline is armored, which translates to more than 700 miles of winding coastline.

Those 700 miles — a distance equivalent to the coastal borders of Washington and Oregon combined — came about after more than a hundred years of human development, but the armoring Vital Sign seeks a net decline over a period of about ten years, from 2011 to 2020. Strictly by that measure, more armoring has actually been created than was removed since 2011 resulting in a total net gain of about .4 miles (2112 feet).

That said, there are indications that the tide is turning. The numbers, released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Puget Sound Partnership, show that removal of armoring has increased steadily since 2005. At the same time, a study of construction permits showed that new armoring was outpaced by removal in 2014, 2016 and 2017, with 2017 being the strongest year on record for this trend.

Source: Data compiled from Hydraulic Project Approvals issued by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Habitat Program.
Source: Data compiled from Hydraulic Project Approvals issued by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Habitat Program.













Another figure called out in the Vital Sign update was the relatively high number of permits to replace existing armoring. In 2017, the length of armoring slated to be replaced was about five times the length of proposed new armoring. Experts see this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the need for some of these old structures and to offer alternatives such as soft-shore protections that are less harmful to the environment. In many cases, experts argue, the old armoring might be ineffective or completely unnecessary. If permittees can be convinced to try alternatives, that could mean additional increases in armor removal.

The state cautions that the new figures don’t account for illegal shoreline armoring that may be constructed outside of the permit structure. That is harder to measure and stemming that tide may require greater enforcement and increased penalties for violations. However, as strictly measured within the permit system, the report says that the numbers are gradually moving — foot by foot, mile by mile — toward a net decrease in shoreline armoring.

For the full figures, visit the Puget Sound Partnership’s Shoreline Armoring Vital Sign page.