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7 Things Waterfront Owners Can Do to Protect Their Shoreline in 2020

I think we can all agree; 2020 has given us more to worry about than we anticipated. Whether it’s a global pandemic, a wavering economy, murder hornets, inland hurricanes, or a little election coming up in November, people have a lot on their minds. 


On top of all this, shoreline property owners have an additional thing to keep them up at night; shoreline erosion. Northern Michigan waterfront has been disappearing at a breakneck pace thanks to historically high water levels and record levels of shoreline erosion. We all know that water levels in the Great Lakes are cyclical, but the water levels of 2020 are a cause for new concern; thanks to the higher sustained winds and more intense storms brought on by climate change, as well as a boom of waterside construction that has left less and less natural shoreline undisturbed. 


But, this isn’t a time to throw in the towel. Waterfront property owners can take steps to protect their investment, protect the environment, and give themselves and their families a fantastic beach to enjoy for years to come. Here are seven things you can do right now to protect your shoreline from erosion. 


1. Start Measuring Your Erosion Rates

It may seem simple, but the first thing waterfront property owners need to do to protect their shoreline from erosion is to simply measure the rate at which erosion is happening. In the same way that it’s difficult to detect when your fingernails are growing, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly how bad your erosion problem is.


Start by taking a basic wooden stake and hammering it into the ground at the water’s edge on a calm day. You’ll need to drive it deep (at least 24 inches) to make sure the waves won’t wash it away. Then, bring a tape measure out to measure and record the water level every day for a month. 


If you are seeing a consistent creep towards the beach, even if it is in small increments, you know you’ve got a situation you need to deal with. If water levels remain relatively steady, great! That means you’re next tasks are preventative rather than curative. 


Remember, you can’t fight a problem that you don’t know about, so start by arming yourself with information. 



2. Stop Clear-Cutting of Vegetation

We all want that big view of the water, but clear-cutting of waterside vegetation is a recipe for shoreline erosion. Trees, grasses, and other vegetation provide an essential root structure to hold shorelines and banks in place. Without these roots, shorelines are much more susceptible to wind and waves washing them away. 


You can combat this by putting a halt to any clear-cutting plans you have, or at least getting strategic about it. 


For instance, rather than cutting down a tree that may be blocking your view, try pruning the low hanging branches. Or, rather than clearing out the brush and bushes that hug your beach, manicure them with a set of hedge clippers so it becomes part of your landscaping.



3. Monitor Your Water Runoff; Direct it Away From Problem Areas

Believe it or not, shoreline erosion isn’t a one-way activity. It isn’t just the waves and water that wash our beaches away; water runoff from other places can be a major contributing factor to disappearing shorelines too. 


Start by assessing how storm and waste water is directed on your property. Water is going to make it’s way back to the lake (that is the natural order of things), but you can halt storm water’s contribution to your erosion problems by making sure the path it takes isn’t through your affected areas. Answer questions like, “where does rainwater go when it falls on my roof? On my driveway?” or “Am I getting runoff from water systems like sprinklers?” 


If that water is running towards your eroded areas, you are never going to win. Create a water diversion plan to make sure that wastewater doesn’t flow into your shoreline area.



4. Keep Slopes Gentle

If you’re doing any sort landscaping, make sure to keep slopes gentle and pushing away from any erosion-affected areas. Though it’s difficult to detect with the naked eye, even a few extra degrees of decline towards the water can have a big impact on how much water you’re pushing towards the eroded area. 


Make sure your grading is gentle, that slopes point away from your problem areas, and that you’re not fighting the natural pull of the land; instead, using the natural landscape to enhance the beauty of your property. 




5. Avoid New Construction Within 50 Feet of the Shoreline

Even if you aren’t clearcutting vegetation, construction of anything, including relatively small structures like gazebos or patios can have a negative effect on shoreline erosion. When you build a permanent structure that close to the water, you are creating an impermeable surface that water has to flow off, thereby channeling it and concentrating its effects. Even a 10 x 10 waterside patio, relatively small compared to most permanent features, creates 100 sq feet of space where water has nowhere to go. 


Also, the weight of these structures can negatively affect the strength and stability of the land underneath it, especially if you are building on a bluff that is already being eaten away by the wind and waves. 


Try erecting seasonal structures like a canopy and using portable furniture. This allows you the convenience and enjoyment of your property without putting stress on the land below. 



6. Plant Native Grasses and New Trees

For the same reasons that halting any of your clearcutting for the season is a good idea, planting new vegetation is a good idea too. Remember though, not all shoreline vegetation is created equally. 


Make sure you are planting native trees and grasses, ones with root systems suited for a Great Lakes environment. These will have deep, fast-growing root structures that will support your shoreline the first season you plant them and will have lasting effects for years to come. 


If you’re looking for some ideas on particular plants that would work well on your property, check out The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership’s study on ideal plants for inland and great lake environments



7. Call a Certified Natural Shoreline Restoration Professional For Advice

If it’s clear that the care and maintenance of your shoreline is going to require skills and expertise beyond what you possess, don’t wait; give a certified natural shoreline professional a call for a consult and to put a plan of action in place to protect your home and your property. 


Our recommendation for this sort of work is a company called Inhabitect, owned and operated by Traverse City native Nathan Griswold. Inhabitect will walk you through options to protect your shoreline, everything from soft-armoring with things like old Christmas trees to full-on boulders and hard-armoring using break walls and rip-rap. 



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Have Questions About Buying Or Selling a Waterfront Home?

The Brick & Corbett team has helped our clients buy and sell hundreds of waterfront properties over the years, and we can help you too. If you’ve got questions about what it takes to make the next chapter in your homeownership story a reality, give Brick & Corbett a call today and let us walk you through the process step-by-step. 

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