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Virginia CZM Program Shoreline Management Projects

Virginia CZM Program LogoEffects of Waterfront Development on Virginia's Shorelines

Waterfront development, often for retirement or summer homes, is an ever more common sight along the creeks and rivers of Virginia’s coastal zone. Waterfront property is expensive, so one of the first “improvements” new property-owners typically consider is stabilizing their shoreline in order to prevent erosion and protect their investment.

Although a number of options are available for managing shoreline erosion, many landowners choose to harden their shoreline with either a riprap revetment (rock) or a wood or vinyl bulkhead, also known as "seawalls". Building these structures along the shoreline may require removing vegetation in order to gain access for construction activities. Depending on the height and condition of the shoreline bank, some property owners also grade their property next to the shoreline to reduce the slope to the water and prevent bank erosion.

Unfortunately, some shoreline stabilization practices can have detrimental effects on coastal resources:

  • Impacts to important habitats and to water quality can occur because of the loss of trees and shrubs, wetlands, beaches, banks, and underwater grass beds.  Some of these losses occur immediately because of shoreline structure construction, access to shoreline areas for machinery, or grading. Others are more gradual and may result from scouring and sediment resuspension from reflected wave energy or the inability of fringe marshes and beaches to migrate landward as sea level rises. Shoreline stabilization can also affect the gradual movement of sediment along the shore and cause increased erosion on nearby properties.
  • Removal of shoreline vegetation can cause shallow water temperatures to rise. This can adversely affect fish. Loss of trees and shrubs also reduces food and cover for birds and other wildlife.

What is the Virginia CZM Program doing to address this issue?

The Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program completed assessments of coastal resources in 2006 and 2011 as well as a planning initiativesto direct efforts through a number of specific strategies, funded under Section 309 of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.  Visit the Coastal Needs Assessment and Strategies web page for more information.

Shoreline Management Strategy

One of these strategies targeted shoreline management.  The Shoreline Management Strategies focused on promoting living shorelines (see side bar)

Over a ten-year period this strategyprovided $1,538,019 for various initiatives and produced the following outcomes.  

  • A "Living Shoreline Summit" with peer reviewed proceedings, to advance the use of this management technique (held December, 2006)
  • Revised "Wetlands Guidelines" to be used by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, local wetlands boards and others to guide decisions about shoreline and tidal wetlands management.
  • Improved data on shoreline conditions to support more informed shoreline management decisions.
  • Research to document the habitat value and viability of living shorelines and to improve their design.
  • Guidance for local governments to use in shoreline management planning.
  • Outreach materials for land use decision-makers, landowners and contractors on living shoreline advantages and design principles.
  • A training program for contractors and local government staff on living shoreline practices.
  • A report on improving management of Virginia's dune and beach resources, including proposed revisions to the Coastal Primary Sand Dunes and Beaches Act. 
  • Changes to the Coastal Primary Sand Dunes and Beaches Act by the Virginia General Assembly (Adopted 2008 – expanded Act from 9 localities to the entire coastal zone)
  • Revisions to the Coastal Primary Sand Dunes and Beaches Guidelines.
  • A comparative analysis of two methodologies for developing local shoreline management plans.

Living Shorelines Initiative

living shoreline - photo by Karen Duhring, VIMS

Living Shorelines are restored shorelines that, in addition to protecting property from erosion, provide habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife.  Like undisturbed natural shorelines, they also protect water quality by trapping excess nutrients and sediment.  Photo by K. Duhring, VIMS.

While revetments and bulkheads and other methods that 'harden' the shoreline provide property owners with erosion protection, they degrade the ability of the shoreline to provide habitat for aquatic life and to filter storm water runoff. Many low energy shorelines are being hardened where less damaging techniques for managing shoreline erosion could be employed.

The Virginia CZM Program Office has working with the program's partners to promote Living Shorelines, a technique that not only stabilizes the shoreline but provides valuable habitat and improves water quality.

Living Shorelines are shorelines that have been altered by man to protect them from erosion and to create habitat using nature-based techniques such as marsh plantings, beach nourishment, and low profile oyster reefs, breakwaters and sills.

Living Shorelines Initiative Successes Fact Sheet - June 2012 (pdf)

VIMS Center for Coastal Resources Management Living Shorelines Page --- including a Living Shoreline design options, VIMS projects, workshop proceedings, a photo gallery of royalty-free downloadable images, and Living Shoreline and Living Shoreline publications.

Shoreline Technical Assistance Toolbox - NOAA Office for Coastal Management --- The Shoreline Technical Assistance Toolbox provides coastal resource managers with centralized access to information, resources, and tools to address shoreline erosion and management, focusing on alternatives to traditional shoreline hardening. The Toolbox includes information on planning and policy tools, alternative stabilization techniques such as “soft” or hybrid methods (e.g. marsh restoration with breakwater sill), and the economics of shoreline management. For each technique, the site also provides case studies describing how each technique has been applied. In addition, the Toolbox also includes a “resources” page that provides links to a variety websites, reports and management tools related to shoreline management.

NOAA Restoration Portal Website - Living Shorelines page --- site maintained by the NOAA Restoration Center 

Virginia CZM Program Shoreline Management Grant Projects

Click on the project links below for more details.

FY 2006 
(October 2006 - September 2007)
Total - $150,000

Task    Project
94.01 Support for Living Shoreline Summit
94.02 Revisions to Tidal Wetlands Guidelines
94.03 Synopsis of Dune and Beach Assessments
94.04 Research: Better Sill Design Phase I
94.05 “Sands of the Chesapeake” reprint and Chesapeake Dune System Monitoring

FY 2007
(October 2007 - September 2008)
Total - $150,000

Task Project
2.04  Monitoring Living Shorelines at Hull Springs Farm
94.01 Research: Better Sill Design Phase II
94.02 Revisions to Dune and Beach Guidelines
94.03 Shoreline Inventory Reports for 5 localities

FY 2008
(October 2008 - September 2009)
Total - $150,000

Task Project
94.01 Living Shoreline Design and Construction Guidance Manual
94.02 Shoreline Inventory Reports for York & Newport News: Phase 2
94.03 Shore Evolution in Four Virginia Localities
94.04 Shoreline Management Plan Support: Draft State Agency MOU, Shoreline Plan Powerpoint, Local Government Presentations, and Local Government Brochure

FY 2009
(October 2009 - September 2010)
Total - $191,590

Task Project
94.01 Design and Construction of Living Shorelines Course Development and Implementation
94.02 Shoreline Inventory Reports for Tidewater Localities Phase 3-Fairfax and Prince William Counties
94.03 Shore Evolution in Four Virginia Localities
94.04 Living Shorelines Website for Property Owners, Industry and Managers

FY 2010
(October 2010 - September 2011)
Total - $150,000

Task Project 
94.01 CSI: Shoreline Management: Shoreline Inventory 
94.02 CSI: Shoreline Management: Shoreline Evolution Reports for Tidewater Localities 

FY 2011
(October 2011 - September 2012)
Total - $180,000

Task  Project 
93.01 Research and Development of Comprehensive Shoreline Guidance and Living Shorelines General Permit in Virginia
93.02 Shoreline Management Planning
FY 2012
(October 2012 - September 2013)
Total - $169,929
Task  Project 
54 Feasibility Study to Incentivize Living Shoreline's with a Revolving Loan Program 
93.01 Shoreline Management Planning and Development
FY 2013
(October 2013 - September 2014)
Total - $126,500
Task  Project 
93.01 Shoreline Management Planning  
FY 2014
(October 2014 - September 2015)
Total - $135,000
Task Project 
93  Shoreline Management Planning 
 FY 2015
(October 2015 - September 2016)
 Task Project 
 93 Shoreline Management Planning 

 Grand Total - $1,538,019


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For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact Virginia Witmer

This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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