Oct 13, 2020

Rising Shoreline Erosion

Midwest communities face shoreline erosion from rising waters  

shoreline erosion

Up until recently, homeowners along Watkins Lake in Waterford Township, Michigan, were pretty much focused on plentiful fishing, beautiful views and a summer of waterfront recreational activities. The same can be said for visitors to the Karwick Nature Park in Michigan City, Indiana.

While both locations are miles apart, they have one thing in common. They are set on tributaries of Lake Michigan and facing problems associated with rising water levels of one of the largest Great Lakes. These are among the many scenarios that are affecting coastal regions throughout the country.

Today, many of Waterford Township residents see that their seasonal homes are being threatened by shoreline erosion. The erosion is a result of wave action from Watkins Lake, a 238-acre body of water which connects with Lake Michigan. Likewise the 23 plus-acre Karwick Nature Park has seen its share of shoreline erosion. Homes on Watkins Lake have been at risk of flooding or falling into the water. Visitors to the park have faced dangerous conditions due to the instability caused by the effects of erosion. 


What causes shoreline erosion?

The Great Lakes are suffering from drastically rising waters that threaten the existence of homes, businesses, roads and sidewalks. These rising waters are also impacting the smaller lakes and communities in areas such as Waterford Township and Michigan City. 

The Army Corp of Engineers recently reported that lakes Huron, Erie and Michigan are facing rising water that will exceed records set 102 years ago.

In recent months, flooding has resulted in the destruction of homes, which are falling into Lake Michigan. Some have lost up to 40 feet of their backyards through shoreline erosion, the gradual removal of sediments from shorelines due to various factors, including storms, waves, rain and ice, and many homes are barely hanging on to cliffs, which now stand 12 feet high. 

The situation in the Great Lakes and neighboring towns is projected to continue following record-setting high-water levels in 2017 and 2019. The Army Corps of Engineers and other organizations anticipate even higher levels in 2020 and beyond. They attribute this situation to climate fluctuations that increase precipitation and evaporation, the major causes of water-level rise and fall.

Several residents on Watkins Lake have taken steps to preserve their homes and way of life. While the problems have not reached those experienced in the Great Lakes, these homeowners have taken notice. Michigan City has also taken steps to restore the shorelines of this park that provides recreational amenities as well as a popular fishing area.

To date, states, municipalities, homeowners and associations have turned to more traditional erosion control systems. They include bulkheads, seawalls and revetments which involve placing erosion-resistant materials directly on the affected areas. These can be viable solutions but are frequently expensive, time consuming to install and not environmentally responsible.

The system restores “living shorelines” with the installation of the mesh system, which is filled with sediment and then anchored to the land.
rooting grass
Grass begins to root through the mesh system at Karwick Nature Park.

Implementing Bio-engineered Shorelines

After considerable research, these homeowners turned to SOX Erosion Solutions, a designer and developer of bio-engineered living shorelines and hillside stabilization systems. The firm offers a suite of patented systems including  DredgeSOX and ShoreSOX  that have been deployed to restore the shorelines along their lakefront properties. The systems combine technology, engineering and bio-science to produce a long-lasting environmentally responsible solution.

Both technologies involve filling a large knitted mesh shoreline restoration system with organic sediment dredged from lake bottoms or locally sourced soils delivered to the job site. It is then secured to the shoreline using SOX’s patented anchoring systems to recreate the original and now living shoreline. These systems can be installed in a matter of days and are less expensive than other alternatives. The systems provide a long-lasting hedge against further erosion, and in the case of Watkins Lake residents, brings a level of security as well as function and beauty. Residents reported other advantages that were instrumental in their decision:

  • The dredging process improved water flow, reduced water pollution and created healthy habitats. It also removed years of accumulated leaves, grass clippings and other decaying organic matter from lake bottoms. 
  • Once in place, the system stabilizes the shoreline as grass, sod and other vegetation roots through the mesh armoring, establishing a new, healthy greenspace. 
  • DredgeSOX filtrates and improves water flow, creating healthy wildlife habitats, reducing invasive plant species and improving the natural balance both in the water and out. 
  • The system serves as a sub-surface water filter, reducing phosphates, nitrates and other pollutants from entering the pond. The improved water quality thereby enhances the overall eco-system.

The results have been significant in that these homes have reclaimed hundreds of feet of shoreline. In addition, they have reclaimed lost land in their backyards.  


Coastal Shoreline Restored at Park 

Michigan City residents experienced similar success as the sanitary district retrofitted an old garbage dump along a local fishing site to become The Karwick Nature Park. This park has over 2,800 linear feet of shoreline and hillsides that have been protected from erosion utilizing the SOX systems. In addition to the protection of the shorelines and hillsides, the land is also being protected by the SOX Turf Reinforcement Matting (TRM). The versatility of the systems allow the SOX certified service provider, Slusser’s Green Thumb, Inc., to provide more than 50,000 square feet of contiguous coverage that provides a safer, more stable vegetated environment along the perimeter of the Karwick Nature Park. By using the system in this manner, it allows the pre-determined, prescribed (grass) seed mix that has been applied a chance to root and grow through the material from the inside out.

The 2,800 feet of shoreline and hillsides are alongside Trail Creek, a local favorite recreational fishing area. The system halted soil erosion and restabilized shorelines and hillsides using an open-ended containment system that is filled with a locally sourced organic media. In this case, Slussers was able to repurpose a combination of clean topsoil and mulch converted from the fallen trees ground and processed on site. ShoreSOX is designed with a double-layered knitted polyethylene mesh. This gives the erosion control system its maximum moisture retention capabilities and allows it to vegetate new living shorelines, even in arid climate conditions. The result is an immediately stable shoreline, which adds aesthetic value to the property, improves the natural ecosystem and greatly reduces safety risks for workers and maintenance staff. A new living shoreline is expected to last and provide a stable, safe environment along Trail Creek.   

By retrofitting this park and reassuring the protection of its hillsides and shorelines, Michigan City is ensuring stability and beauty in a natural setting for its residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors for years to come.  Without the engineers specifying a specific stabilization system, simply resloping and seeding would be a short-term fix, and unfortunately, would have been a costly expense requiring further future maintenance and repair.  By protecting the re-sloped and recreated areas with the patented systems, the engineers were able to employ technology and biosciences to provide the long-lasting solutions the park’s visitors will be able to enjoy at the Karwick Nature Park. 

Watkins Lake residents and users of Karwick Nature Park must keep a close eye on this situation and take steps to restore and reinforce the shorelines that have yet to be stabilized. Keep in mind that shoreline erosion is inevitable since over time constantly fluctuating water levels weaken these areas. Those along the Great Lakes and connecting water bodies face potentially devastating situations. There are other dangerous scenarios caused by eroding shorelines. People can be injured as land collapses and those operating heavy equipment such as lawnmowers are put at risk when working on this unstable land. The erosion can also expose and destroy infrastructure, resulting in expensive repairs.

This patented anchoring and integration technology provides protection against the loss of land and secures the unstable shoreline environment. These areas are in the midst of the wettest period in more than 100 years, so it is not surprising that these conditions exist and are likely going to get worse. Homeowners, municipalities, golf courses, and associations are well advised to assess their properties and determine if they are at risk. If so, they must take the proper steps to protect their real estate through the restoration of shorelines

The Karwick Nature Park shorelines suffered significant erosion due to fluctuating water levels.


About the author

Ryan Leeds is managing partner of SOX Erosion Solutions. Leeds can be reached at [email protected]