Living Shorelines and Structural Shoreline Practices

Willoughby Bay Spit and East Ocean View in Norfolk
Willoughby Bay Spit and East Ocean View in Norfolk
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District Image Gallery

Owners of shoreline property threatened by erosion have traditionally installed bulkheads, seawalls, revetments, breakwaters, groins, and jetties. Living shorelines are now an option as well.

In 2020, the General Assembly mandated that the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) prioritize living shorelines for stabilizing land:1

The Commission shall permit only living shoreline approaches to shoreline management unless the best available science shows that such approaches are not suitable. If the best available science shows that a living shoreline approach is not suitable, the Commission shall require the applicant to incorporate, to the maximum extent possible, elements of living shoreline approaches into permitted projects.

some owners of riverfront property cut grass to the shoreline
some owners of riverfront property cut grass to the shoreline
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Dorian - September 07, 2019

In developed areas, a high percentage of the shoreline is armored by bulkheads, breakwaters, and other physical barriers to protect infrastructure from inundation. A lawyer focused on waterfront legal cases calculated that by May 2022, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission had approved 5,983 feet of living shoreline and 6,581 feet of hardened shoreline:2

There are over 7,000 miles of coastline in Virginia (over three times the distance between Virginia Beach and San Diego). About 18% of the Chesapeake Bay coastline is armored, with higher values (45-50%) along urban shores in many areas.

As sea level rises, the remaining marshes in such areas will be squeezed. Rising water will flood the marsh near the water, and human barriers will block migration inland.

In contrast, elevation maps of the Chesapeake Bay show that in rural areas the low-lying fields and forests will be transformed into new wetlands. In particular, forested wetlands are at risk of conversion into tidal marsh.3

The US Navy planned the largest living shoreline project on the East Coast in 2022. On the York River, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown prepared to construct about 2,900 feet of living shoreline by stimulating production of "oyster castles." Concrete and granite forms, used as an artificial reef foundation, would lead to a new reef intended to absorb wave energy that eroded the shoreline.4

Chesapeake Bay Geology and Sea Level Rise

Climate Change in Virginia

Will Norfolk (and the Rest of Hampton Roads) Drown?

Virginia and Submerged Lands

Who Owns Submerged Lands After They Emerge Through Accretion and Landfilling?

a living shoreline at Penniman Spit was designed to reduce erosion on the shoreline of Naval Weapons Station Yorktown
a living shoreline at Penniman Spit was designed to reduce erosion on the shoreline of Naval Weapons Station Yorktown
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

concrete forms are placed below the low-water mark and oysters use the hard substrate to grow into castles
concrete forms are placed below the low-water mark and oysters use the hard substrate to grow into castles
Source: Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Pre-Cast Reef Structures

Links

the Corps of Engineers placed rock on the York River shoreline in 2013 to counter erosion threatening the Colonial National Parkway

the Corps of Engineers placed rock on the York River shoreline in 2013 to counter erosion threatening the Colonial National Parkway
the Corps of Engineers placed rock on the York River shoreline in 2013 to counter erosion threatening the Colonial National Parkway
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District Image Gallery

References

1. "Section 28.2-104.1. Living shorelines; development of general permit; guidance," Title 28.2. Fisheries and Habitat of the Tidal Waters - Subtitle I. General Provisions Relating to Marine Resources Commission - Chapter 1. Administration - Article 1. Commission; Commissioner, Code of Virginia, https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title28.2/chapter1/section28.2-104.1/ (last checked uly 26, 2022)
2. "Updates On Living Shorelines – Webinar Recap," Jim Lang - Watefront Law, July 5, 2022, https://www.waterfrontpropertylaw.com/blog/posts/updates-on-living-shorelines-webinar-recap/ (last checked July 26, 2022)
3. Grace D. Molino, Joel A. Carr, Neil K. Ganju, Matthew L. Kirwan, "Variability in marsh migration potential determined by topographic rather than anthropogenic constraints in the Chesapeake Bay region," Limnology and Oceanography Letters, May 31, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1002/lol2.10262; "Rural areas will bear the brunt of U.S. sea-level rise," Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, June 14, 2022, https://www.vims.edu/newsandevents/topstories/2022/rural_inundation.php (last checked July 1, 2022)
4. "Naval Weapons Station Yorktown building living shoreline to combat erosion, sea level rise," WHRO, July 14, 2022, https://whro.org/news/30676-naval-weapons-station-yorktown-building-living-shoreline-to-combat-erosion-sea-level-rise (last checked JUly 15, 2022)


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