Supporting Healthy Water and Habitat through Restoration of the Watershed’s Living Infrastructure

A growing number of communities around the country are employing programs to restore shorelines to their natural form.  The benefits of these naturalized living shorelines are well documented in numerous studies, and research verifies that they provide significant improvements in water quality, habitat, and shore resiliency.  With funding provided by the Greenway Ecological Standing Committee, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has launched a Living Shorelines program within the Niagara River Greenway.

The Living Shorelines program aims to restore both hardened and degraded shoreline areas to their natural, resilient, and self-repairing form which will better support a sustainable, protective and higher-functioning ecosystem. A healthy shoreline encompasses the full expanse of the land-water interface: in-water, shoreline, and upland. When functioning properly, this interface will:

Figure 1. Hardened vs. Living Shoreline. Illustration credit: Frank McShane, courtesy of Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
Figure 1. Hardened vs. Living Shoreline. Illustration credit: Frank McShane, courtesy of Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
  • Improve water quality by filtering sediments and stormwater runoff
  • Create habitat that supports the life cycles of many fish and wildlife species
  • Reduce shoreline erosion by absorbing and lessening erosive forces
  • Enhance public access and improve recreational opportunities
  • Increase community resiliency by absorbing wave energy, floodwaters, and storm surges

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is developing and installing Living Shorelines on four sites in order to meet both the goals of this program, as well as the needs of local landowners and public spaces. The program’s focus is to improve shoreline sections that lack healthy vegetation buffers and in-water habitat, and to restore shorelines with hardened structures or erosion problems to functional natural living infrastructure systems (as outlined in Figure 1).

Utilizing best management practices, Riverkeeper is applying innovative bioengineering techniques to execute the Living Shorelines Program. Bioengineering employs native and naturalized plant species, natural slopes and other natural materials, such as stone, boulders, and log revetments to buffer the shore and vegetation from storm effects and hydrologic forces.  When applied to a shoreline that is hardened or eroding, these techniques restore the ecosystem services provided by the habitat components that make up a living shoreline, including improved water quality and enhanced biodiversity (detailed in Figure 2).

Figure 2. A cross-section of the ecosystems that make up a living shoreline. Each ecosystem provides important services that together form a productive and naturally functioning landscape. (Click on image for full view.)
Figure 2. A cross-section of the ecosystems that make up a living shoreline. Each ecosystem provides important services that together form a productive and naturally functioning landscape. Illustration Credit: Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. (Contact Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to learn more about our Living Shorelines Publications)

Our first living shoreline project was constructed at the Sandy Beach Park Club on Grand Island. Click here for more information on this site. Please check back periodically to see the progress of our Living Shoreline sites.

Other important program components that foster living shorelines and healthy habitat in Western New York include:

Program Contact:
Emily Sadowski
(716) 852-7483 x16
esadowski@bnriverkeeper.org

For a two page project sheet about the Living Shorelines Program, click here.

For more information on Living Shorelines check out these resources:
New York State Geographic Information Gateway: Living Shorelines
NOAA Habitat Conservation: Living Shoreline Planning and Implementation
Center for Coastal Resources Management: Living Shorelines