Bulkheads and rock walls can reduce erosion caused by wave action, but they may do little to prevent continued erosion and sliding of the upper bank.
Failed bulkheads and large slide, Whidbey Island, Island County.

Bulkheads Can Increase Erosion

Bulkheads will not prevent the beach itself from eroding. In fact, bulkheads can cause increased erosion of the beach when waves reflect off the hard structure and erode nearby beaches.
Bulkheads increase wave action and scouring of the beach.
How bulkheads and other shoreline armoring devices can damage the beach...

Alternatives To Bulkheads

  • In many cases, proper groundwater and vegetation management protect a home better than bulkheads.
  • Moving or replacing threatened structures, such as stairways, is often cheaper than protecting them in place.
  • Planting fast growing erosion-resistant plants such as willows can help stabilize eroding areas, while maintaining important habitat.
  • On some sites, renourishing the beach with gravel can actually reduce wave action.
  • Whichever option you choose, ask questions and check with your local planning department about the approach.
There may be alternatives to bulkheads that can reduce erosion while protecting or restoring shoreline habitats...

Bulkheads Can Damage the Beach

  • Scientists have found that bulkheads and other hard shoreline structures can destroy or degrade fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Over 800 miles of bulkheads and other hard structures now edge Puget Sound -- an estimated 1/3 of the total Puget Sound shoreline.
  • Bulkheads and other hard structures can cause severe damage to nearby beaches.
  • Shoreline property owners and fish, plants, and wildlife would all benefit from alternatives to bulkheads.

Bulkhead distribution data source: 1995 survey of randomly selected sites. "Our Changing Nature, Natural Resource Trends in Washington State," Washington State Department of Natural Resources, p.53.

Related Topics

Bulkheads and Change, bulkheads can damage the beach.
Bulkhead Alternatives, A few possible alternatives.
Understanding Erosion, Looking at land loss.
Landscaping, Low cost, easy care landscaping.
Permits, Getting help with permits for construction.

Related Links

Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Anyone planning certain construction projects or activities in or near state waters, including bulkheads, must obtain an environmental permit commonly known as an HPA. Find information on how to apply.

Hydraulic Code Rules on Bulkheads, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. These Hydraulic Code Rules apply to the construction of bulkheads for single-family residences on saltwater shores (WAC 220-660-370).

Stabilization Measures, Washington Department of Ecology. Summaries of shoreline stabilization measures listed in the WAC with an emphasis on Puget Sound.

"Marine Shoreline Armoring in Puget Sound and the Washington State Hydraulic Code" Doris Small and Randy Carman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference. Historical background on laws and rules utilized by WDFW in regulating the design and construction of bulkheads on the shores of Puget Sound.   

"The Tide Doesn't Go Out Anymore," The Effect of Bulkheads on Urban Bay Shorelines, Scott L. Douglass and Bradley H. Pickel, University of South Alabama (1999). How bulkheads erode beaches and destroy intertidal ecology.  

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