Coastal Hazards Primer - Erosion
Wind, waves, tides, and sea level rise, in conjunction with the geology of the Connecticut coastline, have been causing erosion for millennia. Erosion can occur gradually over many years or come and go in cyclic patterns. Storms can create massive amounts of erosion sometimes flattening dunes and gouging beaches in minutes or hours.
Littoral transport, the movement of materials in the nearshore area by waves and currents, can help offset the effects of erosion by accreting sand onto the shore. New sediment is delivered from rivers draining into Long Island Sound or released from the naturally-occurring erosion of coastal bluffs and escarpments.
These materials and their movement make up the sediment budget of the coast.
In the early 1980’s the Connecticut Coastal Area Management program developed Planning Report #29: Shoreline Erosion Analysis and Recommended Planning Process that addressed the nature and effects of erosion on the Connecticut coastline. Despite its vintage, the geologic and environmental factors discussed continue to provide a relevant description of coastal processes in Connecticut:
Attempts to stabilize the naturally dynamic shoreline and control flooding have often complicated erosion problems. Structural protection measures such as seawalls, revetments, bulkheads, groins and jetties may help stop bluffs and stretches of beachfront from eroding, but in nearly all cases they can actually worsen existing erosion or cause new erosion in adjacent sections of the shore. This typically happens in three primary ways. First, hard structures can deflect wave and wind energy onto immediately adjacent sections of shoreline, exerting additional or new erosion forces. Second, they tend to lock up and/or impede the natural flow of sediment along the coast. Lastly, as sea level rises, hard structures can impede the natural functions of tidal wetlands and marshes, reducing their viability as protective buffers to erosion.
Since many flood and erosion control projects are constructed water-ward of the high tide line, the state of Connecticut, through the Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OLISP), has significant power to decide where and how these projects are constructed. The Connecticut General Statutes Section 22a-92(b)(2)(F) and Section 22a-92(b)(2)(J) state:
"Structural solutions are permissible when necessary and unavoidable for the protection of infrastructural facilities, water-dependent uses, or existing inhabited structures, and where there is no feasible, less environmentally damaging alternative and where all reasonable mitigation measures and techniques have been provided to minimize adverse environmental impacts."
In practice, the permitting and enforcement activities of OLISP are consistent with the statutory statement concerning the construction and repair of erosion control structures.
What can you do when it comes to the threat of erosion in Connecticut?
Content Last Updated January 3, 2012