Thursday, July 25, 2024

Partnership Makes Waves with Innovative Approach to Stopping Shoreline Erosion

(The James River Association)

CHARLES CITY — The James River Association recently announced the completion of the Berkeley Plantation Living Shoreline project, designed to combat erosion and enhance coastal resilience.

In addition to safeguarding over 1,500 feet of shoreline along a working agricultural landscape, the association said the project will improve water quality in the James River by removing pollutants while providing habitat for wildlife.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held on June 27 celebrated the culmination of the project and nearly three years of collaborative efforts between the James River Association (JRA), the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District (Colonial SWCD), the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Shoreline Erosion Advisory Service (DCR-SEAS), and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

According to JRA, the partnership was instrumental in pioneering an approach to fund the $895,000 living shoreline project, with design and installation supported by funding from the Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practice Cost-Share (VACS) program administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, alongside a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction program, as funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Altria Group. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Agricultural Best Management Practice Loan Program provided a zero-interest loan to the property owner for construction.

“We’re thrilled to have forged this partnership,” remarked Jim Wallace, Manager of the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District. “Bringing state and nonprofit partners together with the District in support of the project allowed us to leverage our collective expertise and financial tools, resulting in a successful and innovative conservation project.”

According to JRA, living shorelines use natural materials and native plants to create a more resilient and ecologically beneficial defense against erosion. The Berkeley Plantation Living Shoreline design features strategic use of stone breakwaters and sills, sand nourishment, and plantings of marsh species like saltmeadow hay and big cordgrass, it said, adding nature-based features help to create a dynamic shoreline that can better adapt to the risks of sea level rise when compared to traditional means of shoreline protection like bulkheads.

“The Berkeley project is a testament to the effectiveness of living shorelines in promoting coastal resilience,” said Jamie Brunkow, Director of River Ecology at James River Association. “In addition to protecting shorelines, these projects conserve and restore natural habitats, trap pollution and improve water quality.”

By creating tidal wetlands that absorb nutrients and prevent over 105 tons of sediment from eroding into the James River annually, JRA said the project significantly contributes to restoration goals for the James River and Chesapeake Bay, adding living shorelines are Virginia’s default regulatory approach to protection of eroding tidal shorelines, but examples of large projects such as Berkeley are still rare on agricultural properties due to the cost and complexity for property owners.

As the first-ever living shoreline funded by the Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practice Cost-Share (VACS) program, the Berkeley project represents a significant milestone in tidal shoreline conservation and an example for partners to scale up future efforts, it said.

“Living shorelines are critical to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, while at the same time protecting coastal farms from erosion. DCR is grateful for continued record levels of funding for the Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program,” stated James Martin, Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Division at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. “This investment by the General Assembly and Governor allows DCR to expand our work with local soil and water conservation districts to deliver conservation practices to more agricultural producers across Virginia.”

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