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Ocean City Beach looking north and the Everglades

National Shoreline Management Study

Systematic Movement of Sand

A systems approach recognizes that coastal processes and sediment movement are regional, and that projects involving sediment can have effects beyond an immediate site and for extended periods of time. A systems approach to sediment management involves:

  • Understanding the ways sediment moves naturally, and how natural and man-made factors affect that movement.
  • Valuing sediment as a resource, not a waste product.
  • Carrying out actions that achieve multiple objectives with sediment.
  • Working with many stakeholders so that all interests are considered.

The first step to implementing a systems approach is accounting for how sediment moves in a coastal system—including rivers, watersheds, beaches and any structures that may affect sediment movement. This knowledge helps coastal planners to retain sediment in the system so that it can support resilient shorelines and healthy environments. The concept of keeping sediment in the littoral system and restoring coasts for shore protection is not new. But in recent years this idea has been enhanced and increasingly supported by the Corps and other agencies.

Regional Sediment Management

Regional Sediment Management (RSM) is an approach for managing projects involving sand and other sediments, and it is intended to advance the application of sustainability principles by:

  • Valuing sand and other sediments as resources;
  • Accommodating multiple objectives;
  • Considering project effects beyond the immediate timeframe and location; and
  • Achieving cost efficiencies and program integration.

Within the Corps, RSM originated with the idea of coordinating dredging and other activities in the coastal zone, such as beach nourishment or ecosystem restoration, to retain sand in the littoral system, support natural system processes and reduce project costs. RSM is an example of a systems approach to managing sand and sediments, and the RSM Demonstration Program, which began in 2001 (pdf, 705 KB), has provided NSMS researchers with opportunities to study the implementation of, and challenges to, systems approaches to shoreline management.

  • The first RSM workshop was held in St. Joseph, Michigan, in August 2001. This event presented initial projects in the RSM Demonstration Program including harbors on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, the Mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, and numerous inlets along the Gulf Coast. The projects profiled during the workshop showed the many ways RSM can be implemented. For example, pairing dredging with beach nourishment at Perdido Pass, Alabama, supported turtle nesting habitat and storm damage recovery. At the Mouth of the Columbia River, sediment dredged from the channel was used to offset shoreline changes from the channel structures and protect the structures themselves. Saving on long-term project costs and providing environmental benefits were highlighted in the example projects. The importance of calculating sediment budgets for RSM projects was emphasized repeatedly by participants.
  • In 2003 the Corps held an RSM Demonstration Program workshop in New Hampshire. In conjunction with this event a joint workshop was held between the Coastal States Organization (CSO) and the Corps entitled "Implementing Regional Sediment Management: Opportunities and Impediments." (pdf, 479 KB) Participants agreed that funding issues were one of the primary impediments to RSM, due to both Congressional funding policies and up-front costs. The need for baseline data for sediment budgets and harmonizing local, state and Federal regulations were also identified as problems. However, many opportunities for interagency collaboration were identified. Productive discussions outlined projects that could benefit from the RSM approach.
  • The North Atlantic Division hosted an RSM demonstration program workshop in New York City in April 2005. The purpose of the workshop was to engage Corps RSM practitioners and RSM stakeholders outside of the Corps in ways to advance implementation of regional approaches to sediment management. Actions that had broad support from participants included developing RSM operating principles, sharing data among agencies, developing economic tools and guidance, and having support from Corps leadership for implementation.
  • NSMS researchers have also developed documents on the concept and implementation of RSM, including Regional Sediment Management: Background and Overview of Initial Implementation, published in 2002, and Regional Sediment Management Primer, published in 2004.

Healthy Beaches, Healthy Nation

Keeping beaches nourished with sand helps them to absorb waves and storm surges, which protects property from coastal hazards. Sandy beaches are important habitats for birds, turtles and other wildlife. Tourism at recreational beaches is a vital part of the economy in many coastal regions. For all these reasons, beach restoration and renourishment are valuable sediment management activities. The NSMS has documented the history of such activities through the 20th and 21st centuries.

  • The Corps of Engineers and Shore Protection: History, Projects, Costs
    IWR Report 03 NSMS-1, Published 2003 (pdf, 6.37 MB). This report provides both an annotated chronology of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shore protection program during the 20th century and the current database (at the time of publication in 2004) of the Corps major shoreline protection projects. The chronology shows that projects follow legislation, which follows public demands after devastating coastal storms.
  • Historical Origins and Demographic and Geological Influences on Corps of Engineers Coastal Missions
    IWR Report 04 NSMS-4, Published 2004 (pdf, 4.4 MB). This report summarizes the types and locations of Corps coastal projects, reviews the history of Corps participation in the coastal zone, examines coastal geology and influences on projects, and reviews demographic and economic trends to project future coastal activities.
  • Dynamic Sustainability: Shoreline Management on Maryland's Atlantic Coast. This historical case study examines the evolution of beach nourishment projects and related coastal management efforts on the Atlantic coast of Maryland.

These works produced by the NSMS highlight the economic and environmental value of using sediment efficiently and sustainably to restore and enhance our Nation's coasts.

Interagency groups are implementing these principles by facilitating regional approaches to sediment management. For example, the California Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup (CSMW) is utilizing federal, state and local cooperative efforts to protect, enhance and restore California's coastal beaches and watersheds. Their goals are to:

  • Coordinate California's coastal beach and watershed restoration, protection and enhancement efforts with local, state and federal stakeholders and programs;
  • Better coordinate coastal sediment management and beach nourishment activities with related ongoing coastal watershed management, habitat restoration and protection, water quality enhancement, resource sustainability, and urban waterfront planning efforts;
  • Increase awareness of state and federal coastal beach and watershed protection, restoration and enhancement policies, programs and activities among local and regional governments; and
  • Prioritize sediment needs and opportunities, make such information available to resource managers and the public, and identify opportunities to streamline regional sediment management activities in California by developing a comprehensive "Sediment Management Plan."