Group says Lake Washington habitat "starving" from bulkheads

Bulkheads make up 90 percent of the shoreline around Lake Washington, according to a research and education group called Washington Sea Grant, and they claim all that concrete is starving the environment. (Photo: KOMO News)

(Editor's note: Information in the television report on the extent of bulkheads around the Lake Washington shoreline has since been updated in this following article.)

LAKE WASHINGTON, WA. - With beach weather making a comeback, a local group is highlighting the need to bring back natural shorelines that are currently protected by concrete bulkheads.

Bulkheads make up 74 percent of the shoreline around Lake Washington, according to a research and education group called Washington Sea Grant, and all that concrete is starving the environment.

Pamela Bendich lives in Kirkland, and a bulkhead once sealed-off her yard from the water’s edge. She never liked it.

“It felt sterile,” Bendich said. “You could see how it impacted the shoreline."

Bendich turned to Washington Sea Grant and its "Green Shores for Homes" program, which replaces bulkheads with environmentally friendly habitats. The group also helps homeowners navigate city permitting processes.

“What we're trying to do is help the homeowners find a really nice solution where they can protect their property from the erosion, get access to the beach and still protect the habitat,” said Nicole Faghin, a coastal management specialist with Washington Sea Grant.

Bendich's bulkhead was causing sinkholes. Landscape designer Paul Broadhurst stopped the erosion by re-sloping the backyard and re-introducing native plants.

“You're blending science with aesthetics,” Broadhurst said.

The result is a beach where salmon can spawn and that is inviting to birds, otters and so much other wildlife. The change also ended Bendich's erosion issues.

“Taking down a bulkhead is really a fairly simple procedure once you get the permitting done,” Bendich said.

Kirkland is the first city in the state to partner with Washington Sea Grant and now waives fees and fast-tracks permits for homeowners who follow the guidelines laid out in the program. Washington Sea Grant said natural habitat restoration can actually cost less than pouring a new bulkhead, depending on the particulars of the property.

“Having them as the team was very beneficial,” Bendich said of the Washington Sea Grant team. “I think it would have been much harder for us to accomplish on our own."

Despite this work, the future of Washington Sea Grant is in jeopardy. President Donald Trump has proposed slashing the budget for NOAA, which provides much of the funding or this local program.

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