Softening Our Shorelines: Policy and Practice for Living Shorelines Along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts

In collaboration with the Coastal States Organization, the National Wildlife Federation assessed living shorelines policies, permitting and projects of all 18 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coastal states. The study and resulting policy recommendations promote the use of living shorelines to reduce coastal vulnerabilities and manage the intensifying coastal impacts of climate change - such as sea level rise, coastal storms, and erosion. The report offers best practices, state and federal policy recommendations to support living shorelines implementation, and detailed summaries of permitting processes by state.

The concept of living shorelines is described as a range of natural defenses, from fully functioning natural systems to hybrid green-gray projects, that support natural coastal processes to reduce shoreline erosion and flooding, provide storm protection, enhance natural habitats, and provide climate resilience. Through research and a series of interviews with state agency personnel and other experts, a diversity of permitting process for living shorelines across states was identified. The report presents a summary of those findings, and highlights some specific examples of the different approaches in use. It was found that the coastal regulatory landscape and permitting processes do have significant effects on either constraining or facilitating living shoreline implementation.

The report reviews the Army Corps Nationwide Permit 54 for living shoreline projects developed in 2017, and its criteria. Six out of 18 states surveyed have approved Nationwide Permit 54 for living shorelines, typically with conditions applied as specific to that state. The reasons for which states did not pursue federal approval are described as well. In 14 out of 18 states, some alternate form of regional or state programmatic general permit is used to permit living shorelines - and these other types of permitting are reviewed. The findings are available in a quick look up table format by state (Table 1, page 10), as well as described further in full summaries by state in Part 2.

State by state summaries of living shorelines policy and permitting are included for the Gulf and Atlantic coastal states of: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

The following State-Level Recommendations are detailed along with examples of successful implementations of each of these strategies:

    1. Take the Lead in Developing Design Standards and Guidance
    2. Prioritize Long-Term, Comprehensive Monitoring
    3. Establish a Permitting Preference for Nature-Based or Hybrid Designs
    4. Ensure Parity in the Permitting Process for Living Shoreline Approaches
    5. Provide Process Guidance Materials, Technical Assistance, and Outreach
    6. Develop Incentive Programs (such as the Massachusetts Coastal Resilience Grants Program)


Publication Date: March 2020

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  • Best practice
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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