US Army Corps of Engineers
Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation


Value to the Nation: Coasts

From the rocky coast of Maine to the sandy beaches of California, America’s coastlines draw millions of visitors each year. In addition to their beauty, America’s coastal areas also provide numerous recreational opportunities; habitat for hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife; and a livelihood for millions of Americans.

Coasts are dynamic areas, buffeted by storms that can change the way the area looks and functions over time. Erosion caused by storms eats away at developed land and ocean surges during storms can lead to flooding. Coastal areas and the coastal wildlife that call them home also are impacted upon by natural events and human activities.

USACE is an important partner in numerous programs and projects designed to help protect the economy and the environment of our nation's coastal areas by reducing the effects of these threats.

USACE coastal protection and restoration projects include:

  • beach fills and nourishment to protect against storm surge and wave-generated erosion;
  • construction of shore structures, such as sea walls, breakwaters, and revetments, to protect against flooding and erosion; and
  • best practices sand management, like regional sediment management.

For more information read our Civil Works Program Brochure (pdf, 3.90 MB).

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Our nation’s coastal areas support diverse ecosystems housing hundreds of species of fish, birds, and other wildlife, including many that are rare, threatened or endangered. These fragile ecosystems are vulnerable to storms and economic development.

With a large proportion of the U.S. population living near our sea and lake shores, and an estimated 75% of U.S. vacations being spent at the beach, there has been Federal interest – and a Corps of Engineers mission - in protecting these areas from hurricane and coastal storm damage.

Americans are drawn to coastal areas in part by the tremendous economic opportunities presented by industries such as tourism, shipping, and commercial fishing. The economies of these areas, though, are vulnerable to weather and the environment. Along the East and Gulf coasts alone erosion, flooding, hurricanes and winter storms threaten more than $3 trillion in infrastructure adjacent to shorelines each year.

Hurricane Isabel

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel swept up the Eastern seaboard, causing damage in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Several storm reduction projects implemented by USACE in recent years helped to substantially reduce the damage in these areas.

For instance, the Virginia Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project, and the Richmond Flood Wall are believed to have prevented more than $113 million in damages in Virginia. USACE's large beach replenishment project at Ocean City, Maryland also effectively absorbed wave energy, protecting coastal properties.

USACE projects have provided similar protection against other recent storms, including Hurricanes Floyd and Fran. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, flood walls are being rebuilt to protect the coastline from future damage.

RSM Policy and Implementation Workshop

This workshop was held in April, 2009 to revisit, reassess, and revise USACE's strategies for implementing the Regional Sediment Management approach. To learn more, see the RSM Workshop Proceedings.