Soft Shoreline Engineering


Soft engineering uses ecological principles and practices to achieve stabilization of shorelines and safety, while enhancing habitat, improving aesthetics, and saving money. 

  • Soft Shoreline Engineering

    Home to nearly seven million residents and substantial industry, the Detroit River/western Lake Erie watershed has experienced considerable habitat loss and degradation, as a result of the ample urban and industrial development. Today, statistics show the Detroit River has lost 97% of its coastal wetlands to development and 49.9 of the 51.5 km of its U.S. shoreline have been hardened with concrete and/or steel, effectively destroying all but 1.6 km of natural shoreline. However, despite the enormity of habitat losses the watershed has sustained, a great diversity of wildlife continues to be supported within the ecological corridor.

    The river and lake are at the intersection of two major North American bird migration flyways – the Atlantic and Mississippi, and both continue to be significant fish migration corridors. In addition, the area has been recognized for its biodiversity in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network, and the Biodiversity Investment Area Program of Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The U.S. and Canada share a long history of cooperative conservation due to the chronicle of human settlement, the substantial human population density, and the incredible biodiversity of this shared resource. Out of this international cooperation, the 76.8 km of shoreline along the lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie have been designated as North America’s only international wildlife refuge – the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

    Substantial efforts to restore habitat along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie shorelines have been underway over the past decade. By utilizing ecological principles and practices to achieve stabilization of shorelines and safety, soft engineering enhances habitat, improves aesthetics, and saves money. These innovative techniques incorporate native plants and other materials to soften the land-water interface, and as a result, improve ecological features without compromising the engineered integrity of the shoreline.

    To view examples of Soft Shoreline Engineering Projects along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie, click HERE. 

    Download a copy of the Best Management Practices for Soft Engineering of Shorelines manual. 

  • Gabriel Richard Park


    Case Study #19



    Project Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA

  • Before Restoration


    Project Goals and Objectives: Stabilize the river’s shoreline, provide an aesthetically pleasing environment, and create fish habitat

    Project Description: Stabilization and restoration of 290 meters of shoreline including the integration of two fishing overlooks.
    Cost: $300,000
    Timeframe: 2006-2007


    Click to enlarge image. 

  • After Restoration


    Partners: Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, State of Michigan, Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, City of Detroit, and Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
    Ecological Effectiveness: Prior to stabilization the shoreline was exhibiting areas of erosion, was not conducive for fish habitat, included invasive weeds, and was an uninviting section of the river limiting public access. The project resulted in reduced erosion, ADA public access, fishing opportunities, improved fish habitat, and a safe attractive environment. No post-project ecological monitoring has been performed to date.
    Restoration Contact: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
    Click to enlarge image.

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  • Windsor Riverfront - Legacy Park

    Case Study #50

    Project Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

  • Before Restoration


    Project Goals and Objectives: Stabilize shoreline and enhance fish habitat.

    Project Description: A sloping rock revetment, cobble and sand beach, sheltering structures, and submerged shoal features were created to stabilize shoreline. Native plant species were planted to enhance fish habitat.

    Cost: $3.4 million

    Timeframe: 2006

    Click to enlarge image. 

  • After Restoration


    Partners: Essex Region Conservation Authority, City of Windsor- Department of Parks and Recreation, and Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee

    Ecological Effectiveness: No quantitative post-project assessment: only visual observation

    Restoration Contact: Essex Region Conservation Authority

    Click to enlarge image. 

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  • Danvers Pond and Pebble Creek

    Case Study #3

    Project Location: Rouge River Watershed-Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA
    Project Goals and Objectives: Remove existing dam, stabilize creek shoreline using soft shoreline engineering techniques, and restore natural flows (Farmington Hills, Michigan) 
    Project Description: This project demolished an existing dam, restored natural fish passage, stabilized 300 feet of shoreline using soft shoreline engineering techniques, and restored two acres of fish and wildlife habitat. 

  • Before Restoration


    Dam Demolition: The demolition consisted of the removal of the arch dam structure, wing walls, and entire box culvert to the existing 84” x 120” corrugated metal pipe (CMP) culvert. The earth fill outside the box culvert was re‐graded to a 1:3 (v:h) slope and stabilized with rip rap. The existing CMP culvert was extended to a minimum of 12 feet in order to maintain the proposed 1:3 (v:h) slope from Danvers Drive. The flow of Pebble Creek was then restored through the existing CMP culvert. The existing culvert under Danvers Road now serves as downstream grade control for the restored stream channel.

    Stream Restoration: An artificial riffle was constructed to control the streambed elevation upstream of the impoundment. It was constructed with natural boulders and cobbles that are sized such that they are stable and never transported downstream. The riffle sill was trenched into the streambed and banks to the expected depth of scour. Constructed riffles were used to dissipate energy and control the stream bed elevation in the restored channel. The design
    included restoration of Pebble Creek through the pond after drawdown and dam removal, including active restoration of pattern, profile, and dimension, stream habitat, and an active vegetated floodplain with terrestrial wildlife value.

    Floodplain Restoration: The bottom lands exposed after draw down of the pond were restored as natural floodplain, creating a natural buffer and habitat along the restored stream corridor.

    Click to enlarge image. 

  • After Restoration


    This Danvers Dam Removal and Stream Restoration Project made substantial progress toward eliminating the “Benthos” and “Fish and Wildlife Habitat” beneficial use impairments for the Rouge River Area of Concern. This project also fulfilled local and subwatershed goals by improving the quality of the ecosystem and restoring approximately two acres of habitat for fish and terrestrial wildlife. The reduction in sedimentation within the creek and the re-vegetation of 300 linear feet of naturalized stream channel created improved habitat conditions for fish and wildlife using the Pebble Creek stream corridor. The removal of the dam and the enhancements to Pebble Creek allowed unencumbered fish passage for the entire Pebble Creek (approximately 6.5 miles) and created a natural buffer of native vegetation and wildflowers between private property and the stream corridor.
    Cost: $499,000
    Timeframe: 2010-2012
    Partners: Alliance of Rouge Communities, City of Farmington Hills, Wayne County, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
    Ecological Effectiveness: No monitoring to date; as part of subwatershed management work of the Alliance of Rouge Communities, some post-project monitoring is planned in the future
    Restoration Contact: Alliance of Rouge Communities

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  • Fort Malden Shoreline

    Case Study #17

    Project Location: Amherstburg, Ontrario, Canada

  • Before Restoration


    Project Goals and Objectives: Stabilize shoreline and enhance fish habitat by constructing offshore lake sturgeon spawning habitats

    Project Description: Fort Malden National Historic Site is located on the Detroit River in the town of Amherstburg. The site is owned by Parks Canada, and encompasses the buildings and grounds associated with the historic Fort Malden. The site has a shoreline frontage of approximately 280 meters (919 feet).
    Until recently, the shoreline of the site consisted of failing gabion basket sections (south and north ends) with a stable sheet steel wall section in the middle. Overall, the park shoreline provided limited habitat value due to its shoreline substrates and, most importantly, the high energy environment from river currents and the wake of passing commercial freighters.
    In February, 2004, construction commenced that resulted in stabilizing the shoreline and enhancing habitat, including shore connected groynes, cobble and sand beach areas, a diversity of substrate sizes, and two large submerged offshore shoals to provide spawning habitats for the threatened lake sturgeon.
    In addition to providing aquatic habitat, the features reduced the energy environment along the shoreline areas, thereby further improving habitat conditions.
    Cost: $290,000
    Timeframe: 2004

    Click to enlarge image. 

  • After Restoration


    Partners: Environment Canada, Essex Region Conservation Authority and Parks Canada

    Ecological Effectiveness: In spring 2007, eight gill nets were set immediately adjacent to the sturgeon spawning habitat at Fort Malden by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All the gill nets were 53 meters long and were set for 24 hours. Three adult lake sturgeons were collected in this 24 hour period. In addition, during the spring 2007 1,414 walleye eggs/m² were collected systematically using egg mats. In fall 2007, using the same methodology, 39 lake whitefish eggs/m² were collected, and in spring 2008 1,482 walleye eggs/m² were collected at this site. Although not quantified, numerous white perch or white bass eggs were also found. This confirmed that at least three species of fish are using Fort Malden site as spawning habitat.
    Restoration Contact: Essex Region Conservation Authority
    Monitoring Contact: Jim Boase of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    Click to enlarge image. 

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  • Maheras Gentry Park

    Case Study #25 

    Project Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA

  • Before Restoration


    Project Goals and Objectives: Create an oxbow and restore fish and wetland habitat as mitigation for the construction of Conner Creek Combined Sewer Overflow control facility.

    Project Description: Maheras Park is located in the City of Detroit, just east of the Bay View Yacht Club on the north shore of the Detroit River. The improvements to Maheras Park included an interpretive walkway, fishing piers, and soft engineering of the created embayment's shoreline.

    Due to its highly populated urban location, this project is highly visible and demonstrates the potential to leverage intergovernmental support for future projects using soft engineering designs. This park is owned and operated by the City of Detroit.

    This project created an embayment which has soft engineered shorelines, fishing piers, and an interpretive walkway. Bridges allow access to a created island along the interpretive trail.

    The budget for this project was $2.3 million. The project was undertaken by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, in cooperation with Detroit Recreation Department.

    The Maheras Gentry Park fish habitat mitigation was undertaken as a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requirement to mitigate habitat loss resulting from constructing the Conner Creek Pilot Combined Sewer Overflow Control Facility. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is funding the entire $2.3 million cost of the Maheras Gentry Park project. The creation of the fish habitat occurred during the last half of construction of the Conner Creek Pilot Combined Sewer Overflow Control Facility, which began in 2000 and was completed in 2004.

    Cost: $2.3 million

    Timeframe: 2000-2004

    Click to enlarge image. 

  • After Restoration


    Partners: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and Detroit Parks and Recreation
    Ecological Effectiveness: This oxbow creation and habitat restoration project planted 48 trees representing eleven different species, 14 species of native prairie plants, ten species of aquatic tracheophytes (yellow water lily, white water lily, longleaf pondweed, sago pondweed, pickerel weed, broad-leaved arrowhead, bulrush, burreed, broad-leaved cattail and wild celery) and 16 wetland edge species. Post-project visual observation by Creekside volunteers showed that a diverse assemblage of aquatic tracheophytes became established, however, no rigorous quantitative evaluation has been performed.
    Restoration Contact: Detroit Recreation Department
    Click to enlarge image.

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