Importance of restoring shorelines

Proper protection of shoreline is vital to a healthy ecosystem. Photo courtesy of Lesser Slave Watershed Council staff.

Kate Lovsin,
Watershed Coordinator,
Lesser Slave
Watershed Council.

Restoring shorelines to their natural beauty is not a popular opinion with folks who own waterfront properties.

Everyone is after that beautiful waterfront view without things getting in the way. Little do most waterfront property owners know, removing the natural vegetation causes issues and a need to manage the property.

The natural vegetation, like trees, willows and shrubs, that naturally grow along the shoreline, are a critical part of the ecosystem and help protect the shoreline and water quality.

We get calls about issues surrounding shorelines, mostly having to do with erosion. Erosion is the action of soil and sediment being carried away by some force. The most common forces are through wind or water.

Along the shoreline, waves come in and go out constantly. Each wave chips away at the shoreline, bit by bit. Over time, the shoreline will erode, leaving less and less useable land as the years go on.

For areas where the shoreline has been developed, this is where the issues start. Developers and landowners remove the shoreline vegetation, expecting to improve property values. After several years, they lose their property to water.

Leaving a natural edge allows nature to protect itself. Plants growing in the riparian area, or at the water’s edge, are adapted to have deep and complex root systems. The roots work to hold the soil and sediment in place and fight against wave action.

Willows and other water loving plants at the water’s edge are a critical part of the ecosystem. They prevent sediment and soil from getting in the water, which protects the shoreline and water quality. They are the last line of defense to help filter runoff before it makes it to the lake or river.

And they are critical habitats for all kinds of species across the province. Eighty per cent of species in Alberta rely on riparian areas for at least a part of their life cycle. Keeping these areas intact not only benefits the landowner, but also the environment.

Some people will make their shoreline into an armoured bank, with many layers of rock to protect from wave action. This is extremely expensive and is a net negative to the ecosystem. It removes habitat and can affect water chemistry, depending on the materials used.

If you are looking to protect or restore your shoreline, the best option is to plant willows. It is cost effective, natural and simple. Grant funding exists to help support shoreline naturalization projects like this. Plus, there are so many resources and many experts anxiously waiting for the opportunity to help!

Once the willows and other shrubs have a chance to establish, you can keep them trimmed and maintained as a compromise for a natural shoreline, giving you the best of both worlds.

Interested in grant opportunities to help naturalize your property? Get in touch with our office at (780) 523-9800! We would love the chance to help!

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