BLOG: Creating a Living Shoreline Along Church Creek in Edgewater

By Jennifer Carr, South River Federation

The South River is a beautiful place to live.  However, this beauty can often be overshadowed by our miles of eroding shorelines.  Brenda Boultwood of Edgewater lives along Church Creek, one of the most degraded creeks in the South River.  The shoreline along her property had very visible erosion that needed to be addressed.

One option would have been to install a wooden bulkhead or stone barrier along the shoreline.  Considering that wooden or stone barriers can degrade and be washed away and that they do not provide a benefit to the environment, Brenda wasn’t interested in either option.  She liked the idea of creating native habitat, especially given the state of Church Creek.  After consulting with various experts and conservation organizations, Brenda knew a living shoreline was the right option for her.  Living shorelines not only provide native habitat, but offer more protection and are more resilient than other methods.

As an added bonus, living shorelines are quite beautiful.  Brenda now has 1,800 square feet of living shoreline where she can see crabs, fish, and other aquatic life.  Plus, it makes a great place to entertain guests and educate them about ways we can individually improve the South River and the Chesapeake Bay.  This project was partially funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Creating a living shoreline is worth all the effort, but Brenda does have some advice to consider before tackling a project of this size:  Take the time to talk to plenty of experts because there are many different approaches to constructing a living shoreline.  Do not just rely on one source.  The paperwork can be quite time consuming so do not underestimate the permitting process and related expenses.  When it comes time to install the shoreline, get a wide variety of bids.  In her case, the most expensive bid was four times higher than the least expensive bid.

The South River Federation considers her project an experimental shoreline.  A critical component of all successful living shoreline projects is their dense coverage in native wetland vegetation. To achieve this coverage, conventional living shoreline projects involve the placement of coarse sand to provide, on the day of construction, the proper elevation for wetland plant survival.

However, if erosion continues either uphill or on nearby shorelines, these sites can end up “sitting” much higher than originally designed and, a few years after construction, may not be wetlands at all. The correct management of sediment supply and transport is extremely important. To further explore this issue, Brenda’s shoreline, which is actively eroding from the adjacent cliff, was constructed without sand fill. Natural erosion, transport, and accretion will dictate the final wetland grades of the living shoreline site, a move that will reduce costs and respect the dynamic nature of shoreline processes.

Within two weeks of construction of this site by Central Marine, a nearly identical site was protected on Church Creek using conventional methods (rock breakwaters, sand fill, native planting). The Federation is monitoring the elevations of both sites twice per year for the next three years to better understand the dynamics of living shorelines.

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