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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection-Watershed Restoration
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Watershed
Restoration
THE CLEAN WATER BOOK:
CHOICES FOR WATERSHED PROTECTION
     
CHAPTER 4:
PROTECTING SHORELINES
 

New Jersey is graced with an intricate network of 8,000 miles of streams and rivers and 61,000 acres of lakes. These greatly enhance the beauty of New Jersey's environment while also providing recreational resources, valuable habitat for plants and animals, drinking water supplies and a resource for manufacturing and industry.

The shoreline of a lake or river, where the water meets the land is a dynamic area, subject to flooding and erosion as well as the effects of wind, waves and ice. This sensitive area is significantly influenced by what happens on the surrounding land. Not only can pollutants be flushed by stormwater into the local water body, but the shoreline can also become unstable if there is no vegetation to hold the soil or the flow of stormwater runoff increases. Safeguarding the shoreline helps protect the quality of the stream, river or lake.

 

PROTECTION OF STREAMBANKS AND SHORELINES ALONG STREAMS, RIVERS AND LAKES

If you live near a stream, river or lake, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the water body receiving runoff from lawns, fields, highways or parking lots?
  • Are the shorelines unstable?
  • Is there a build-up of sand or silt in the water body?
  • Are the channels of the stream or river becoming wider and deeper?
  • Is the water brown after a rainstorm?
  • Are the roots of trees and shrubs exposed along the streambanks or shoreline?

If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, your stream is in danger. Sediment from eroding shorelines can smother aquatic life, clog fish gills and cut off light necessary to underwater plants.

Exposed roots indicate that shoreline erosion is occurring. It is typically found in areas where roads, parking lots, rooftops, compacted soil and other impervious surfaces prevent rain from filtering down into the soil. Instead, rain is carried directly into the water body and increases the volume of water and amount of sediment present. This causes the shorelines to erode due to increased flow of water.

An important erosion prevention measure is to make sure your water body is surrounded by plenty of trees, shrubs and other plants. They are very important to both the stability of the shoreline and the health of the water body itself. Establishing or expanding the width of the buffer or adding appropriate vegetation is one type of improvement. Before you plant trees or other vegetation on the banks of your local water body, call your local Soil Conservation Service or Extension Agent to see which types will do well in your area.

Wetlands along the shoreline should be maintained and preserved. In addition to their value as plant and wildlife habitat, wetlands can reduce certain types of pollutants. Plants will absorb nutrients. Some types of soil microbes are capable of degrading certain pesticides into their non-toxic components. Wetlands also provide protection from flooding, acting like a sponge by holding back large volumes of water.

 

RESTORE A FOREST

Forests increase the diversity and productivity of aquatic plant and animal communities through temperature protection and improved habitat and food supply. In addition to their value as food and habitat sources for wildlife, streamside forests serve a valuable function in reducing nonpoint source pollution impacts on their associated streams and rivers. A buffer strip of forest along a water body can reduce the amount of nutrients, pesticides and sediment that enters waterways and shallow ground water.

Acre for acre, forests contribute fewer pollutants than any other land use. Forest ecosystems, from trees to microbes, remove pollutants in a number of ways. Trees and other plants can filter out sediments and use nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Microbes can break down some pesticides to non-toxic components. Forests are considered an effective way to improve water quality and are a vital component in protecting our streams and rivers. As part of an overall nonpoint source pollution reduction plan, restoring streamside forests has a great potential for reducing nonpoint source pollution.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Here are a few of the many things you and your neighbors can do to minimize shoreline erosion in your community. Several of these activities would require permits in accordance with the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, and/or the Flood Hazard Area Control Act (Stream Encroachment Permit Program).

In general, permits are required if any type of machinery (backhoe, bulldozer, etc.) will be used in or near the environmentally sensitive areas, or if any permanent structures will be created. Work done by hand is frequently deemed to be below the regulatory threshold, in which case no permits are required.

  • Remove debris and trash from your creek, marsh, stream or other local water body.
  • Keep people, cars and grazing animals away from the edge of the water.
  • Build steps on a ramp between the top and bottom of the bank if you need access to the water.
  • Avoid heavy loads on the top of streambanks or shorelines.
  • Plant and protect vegetation on the slopes of the shorelines and on the areas adjacent to the slope.

Sometimes streambank erosion has progressed too far for simple measures, and structural restoration may be necessary. Structural restoration of a shoreline requires the assistance of a trained professional. Consult a trained engineer about structural solutions for controlling erosion.

A Stream Encroachment Permit or a Waterfront Development Permit issued by NJDEP is required for any activity affecting streams and other water bodies, including structural restoration. Before the NJDEP Division of Land Use Regulation will authorize structural solutions, they will require the submittal of plans prepared by a professional engineer. For additional information about these regulatory programs, call the Division of Land Use Regulation at (609) 984-3444 or visit www.nj.gov/dep/landuse if you are considering this option.

 
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Last Updated: June 8, 2012