If conditions are right, removing shoreline armor can enhance the natural beauty of your property, improve access to your beach, and help protect the health of Puget Sound – without sacrificing protection from erosion.

Thurston Conservation District collaborates with a number of other Puget Sound Conservation Districts and local jurisdictions to help grow the impact of our collective shoreline actions. Check out this video to learn more about bulkheads and natural shorelines!

Why Are Bulkheads a Concern?

Many marine waterfront properties in Thurston County have bulkheads or other types of shoreline armor that were installed many years ago. “Hard shoreline armor” refers to waterfront walls made from cast concrete, rock, creosote, piles of broken concrete, old tires, railroad ties, and other materials that were routinely installed to slow or stop erosion and seen as the best option.

Today we know that bulkheads are not always the best (or the only) option for dealing with waterfront erosion. This is great news for the health of the Puget Sound! We now better understand that coastal erosion is actually a valuable process for maintaining the health of Puget Sound. Over time, erosion provides the sediment that creates and maintains the beautiful beaches that we enjoy so much. However, shoreline armor like bulkheads interferes with this valuable process of sediment deposition thus “starving” beaches and changing their form, and even their ability to support marine species. Hard armor can also cause other unintended problems such as accelerated beach erosion which eventually undermines the stability of the armor itself. Bulkheads and hard armoring also leach toxic chemicals from creosote and heavy metals from pressure treated wood into the water.

New, replaced, and removed Puget Sound armoring trends (2005-2014). Source: WDFW

What Options Exist for Waterfront Properties with Bulkheads?

In some situations, it may be possible to remove a bulkhead completely or to replace it with a “soft shoreline stabilization” alternative that slows down erosion, but also provides valuable habitat.
In other cases, shoreline armor may be too risky to remove , but there are ways you can help to improve environmental conditions on your shoreline.

We can help you asses whether a bulkhead alternative – or even a removal project – might work for your waterfront. If such a project is feasible, we can discuss the options available to you, including potential sources of funding for removal. Even if shoreline armor can’t be removed, there are still steps you can take to support the health of Puget Sound.

Does one of these situations apply to you? If so, contact us!

I have hard armor on my waterfront.
Is it safe to remove all or part of it?

Bulkheads are often a legacy from the past, installed because they were considered the best option at the time. Today we know that there are alternatives. To assess if armor removal or replacement with “softer” alternatives are feasible options at your property, A site specific determination is needed.In some cases, particularly sites with very high erosion rates, it may not be possible to remove shoreline armor. In other cases, waterfront armor can be completely or partially removed and either left natural, or stabilized with an alternative technique. Even when armor can’t be removed there are still ways you can enhance habitat conditions on your waterfront. 

I have a failing bulkhead that needs to be replaced or removed. What are my options?

Are  you thinking about replacing a failing bulkhead?  It may not be necessary to spend thousands of dollars to replace old, failing waterfront armor.  Depending on site conditions at your specific property, you may simply be able to remove part or all of the armor and replant the bank.  In other cases, a soft shoreline stabilization alternative might be combined with armor removal.  We are available to answer questions and help you understand the various strategies that might work for your property.

I want to remove my bulkhead.
How do I start?

If you have an old bulkhead that isn’t necessary to protect your home and you want to explore options for removing it, let us know! We can come out to assess your waterfront and discuss removal options, as well as funding opportunities and other resources to help you achieve your goals. We do not recommend going about a removal with out professional assistance.

I own undeveloped land with a bulkhead. What are my options?

Undeveloped waterfront properties with old shoreline armor are often ideal locations for removal projects. In such cases, the bulkhead can be removed with ease because of a lack of structures. These sites have an additional genuine advantage: you can plan ahead and locate future buildings at a safe setback distance from the water’s edge, avoiding the need for future shoreline modification entirely – and saving thousands of dollars. Contact us if you want to explore armor removal and shoreline options for a property like this.

Check out these bulkhead alternatives

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Interested in learning more about Shore Friendly Thurston?

Karin Strelioff
Conservation Program Manager
360-754-3588, ext. 103

You can also use our contact form.

Funded wholly or in part by the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program and by EPA under grant #PC-01j22301