WRIA 9 Marine Shoreline Monitoring and Compliance Pilot Project
King County, on behalf of Watershed Resource Inventory Area 9 (WRIA 9), has completed surveys of 92 miles of Puget Sound shoreline – from Seattle to Federal Way, and on Vashon-Maury Island— to assess the change in shoreline armoring and other shoreline infrastructure that has occurred since the last survey in 2005.
The survey was completed using $43,703 in grant funding from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and $14,206 in WRIA 9 funding.
The County, WDFW, DNR and WRIA 9 are interested in the data because natural shorelines, including beaches and bluffs with overhanging native trees and other vegetation, are important habitat for salmon and other wildlife in Puget Sound.
Human actions, such as placing large rock to reduce beach erosion, clearing vegetation, building houses or docks reduce the amount of natural shoreline habitat. Protecting shoreline habitat is an important aspect of protecting Puget Sound, and a key to restoring endangered salmon. As part of salmon recovery efforts, several projects have been completed in King County this past decade where shoreline armoring was removed and natural shoreline conditions restored.
The study collected data on shoreline condition by boat surveys in 2012 and again in 2013, to update and compare to baseline data sets as well as document other recent changes in shoreline condition. The surveys identified a total of 145 changes in shoreline condition. Each identified change in shoreline condition was evaluated based on information provided by the relevant jurisdictions of Burien, Normandy Park, Federal Way, Seattle and King County to determine if it had received a permit for the change. A review of permit records from the local jurisdictions shows that most of the changes were not permitted. While it is not clear that all changes would have required a permit, it is likely that some shoreline alterations were out of compliance with local regulations.
However, it is also important to note that the great majority of shoreline properties (96-99 percent, depending on jurisdiction) did not have any observable changes, and thus were in compliance with regulations that generally discourage development in sensitive shoreline areas. Employees from each jurisdiction have indicated that they will follow their internal procedures related to following up on the potentially unpermitted actions. Similar shoreline studies on Bainbridge Island and the San Juan Islands also found that shoreline development activity was often not permitted.
Of the 145 changes found by the 2012 and 2013 surveys of WRIA 9, changes associated with shoreline armoring accounted for 50 percent of the changes noted, with most changes consisting of repairs to existing shoreline armoring infrastructure. Changes associated with vegetation clearing, docks and other overwater structures, and stairs each accounted for approximately 10 percent of the total, and changes associated with houses accounted for 7 percent of the changes. The rest of the changes were composed of a variety of alterations such as aquaculture facilities, decks, retaining walls and boat ramps.
A major finding of the survey is that more new shoreline armoring has been built since 2005 than has been removed through restoration. This survey work also found that the amount of shoreline vegetation has decreased since 2005, and that other construction activities are also occurring on the shorelines.
Many of the changes do not appear likely to have had a large ecological effect, because they are replacements of existing shoreline structures. However, to the extent that unpermitted changes occurred when a permit was in fact required, these instances represent missed opportunities to work with landowners as part of the permit process to help minimize the effects from shoreline alteration.
Finally, it is important to note that this study did not identify why people are not getting permits. It is suggested that a separate study be undertaken in the future to understand these questions, so that programs can be designed and implemented to ensure shorelines are adequately protected.