Protected and Restored Habitat
Net change in permitted shoreline armor
Progress Indicator
Mile (miles)

From 2011 to 2020, the total amount of armoring removed should be greater than the total amount of new armoring in Puget Sound (total miles removed is greater than the total miles added).

Doris Small
Contributing Partners
Last Updated
8/31/2021 5:02:23 PM
Extent of shoreline armor on Puget Sound. Please see the Department of Ecology Coastal Atlas Map to view Puget Sound drift cells, latest armor, and shoreform types based on the Beach Strategies program data.
This indicator measures the net change in shoreline armor (new armor minus removed armor, measured in shoreline miles) permitted under the WDFW Hydraulic Project Approval. Shoreline armor refers to structures like bulkheads, seawalls, and rip rap. These structures directly alter geologic processes that supply sediment to build and maintain beaches and spits and have the potential to diminish the availability and condition of key shoreline habitats.
Vital Sign Indicator Chart
Net change in permitted shoreline armor
By: Permitting Type
The annual length (shoreline miles) of new and removed shoreline armor permitted under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Hydraulic Project Approval. The cumulative net change of shoreline armor is the sum total of the difference (new minus removed) between 2011 and 2020. Replacement of existing shoreline armor is the most common armor project but does not change the cumulative net length in permitted armor.

Shoreline armor is the most common type of shoreline modification on Puget Sound. The term includes structures like bulkheads, seawalls, and rip rap. In addition to directly covering beach habitat, shoreline armor alters geologic processes that supply sediment to build and maintain beaches and spits. Armor also impacts erosion patterns on nearby beaches, alters beach substrate and hydrology, and reduces the availability of large wood.

These physical changes to beaches can diminish the availability and condition of key shoreline habitats. Shoreline armor can also directly impact organisms and ecological processes by burying or displacing upper beach habitat and altering the natural transition between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Impacts of armor differ from one coastal setting to another but have been demonstrated both on Puget Sound and elsewhere to impact habitat for fish, birds, and invertebrates. On the other hand, removing shoreline armor increases food and shelter for juvenile salmon, forage fish spawning habitat, and provides habitat for invertebrates that many species of birds eat.

Because of these adverse impacts on coastal processes and nearshore habitat and the positive results of removing armor, the goal is to decrease the amount of new shoreline armor that occurs on Puget Sound, while also seeking opportunities to remove armor where feasible. As our understanding of techniques to avoid impacts and consider alternatives related to armor increases, the amount, type and location of new armor is changing too.

Key Vital Sign Indicator Results
  • New armor continues to be permitted for construction under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) on Puget Sound shorelines at the rate of 0.69 miles per year since 2005.
  • Armor replacement is the most common shoreline activity in the permit record, involving nearly 2 miles of shoreline every year since 2005. Work with landowners to use more ecologically sound methods to replace or repair armor is one of the best opportunities to gain shoreline function. 
  • Cumulatively from 2011 to 2020, WDFW allowed the removal of 4.85 miles of armor under HPA permits and permitted 4.71 total miles of new armor construction. Cumulatively over those ten years, more armor was permitted for removal than for construction, thereby meeting the target. Permitted activities are moving in the right direction. However, despite meeting the target, the net loss of armor is a very small amount compared to the legacy of armor (715 miles) in Puget Sound.
  • HPA permits are used to track permitted activities on shorelines for this indicator, be it construction, removal or replacement of armor. However, information in the permits and in the HPA database may not be an accurate reflection of projects on the ground. The database does not account for projects that do not require an HPA, projects that are out of compliance, or illegal shoreline modifications. More work needs to be done to assess the impacts of replacement armor projects and unpermitted activities.
  • The rate of new armor permitted through the HPA has slowed since 2013. The length of new armor in 2020 was the lowest permitted amount in a single year between 2005 and 2020.
  • 80 percent of new shoreline armor by length was permitted for construction within six Puget Sound county geographic boundaries (Pierce, Mason, Island, Skagit, San Juan, Kitsap) between 2011 and 2020.
  • Single family residences are the most common applicant type for new shoreline armor permits. Single family residences applied for over 60 percent of the total new shoreline armor length between 2011 and 2020.
  • Nearly 2 miles of shoreline armor was removed in Kitsap and Clallam County geographic boundaries between 2011 and 2020, accounting for 40 percent of the total armor removed over that time period.
Monitoring Program

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Program

Data Source

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA)

Alterations to the shoreline are regulated primarily by two state laws, the Shoreline Management Act and the Hydraulic Code. Permits issued under the Hydraulic Code for in-water and shoreline construction activities include information on the length of added, replaced or removed armor. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been tracking Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) permits electronically since 2005. Thus, data reported here were compiled from HPAs issued from January 2005 through December 2020 by WDFW and currently documented in the Aquatic Protection Permitting System database. While other data from local studies and shoreline permits under the Shoreline Management Act may have more detailed information at the local level, the HPA database is the most consistent, centralized and accessible record for assessing all of Puget Sound.

Despite having the most comprehensive data available to track shoreline armoring, the permit record in the HPA database has some shortcomings. The HPA database was developed to track permit applications and processing but was not developed to track shoreline armor data specifically. Data are based on when an HPA permit was obtained for a project and does not indicate when or if a project was ultimately implemented or if it was constructed in compliance. In addition, most projects on federal or tribal lands and pollution remediation projects are not included as they do not require an HPA permit. Efforts to improve methods to track the shoreline armor indicator are currently underway by the Puget Sound Partnership, WDFW and other collaborators.

HPA projects were categorized by length of shoreline modified as:

  1. New (previously unarmored shoreline)
  2. Replacement (complete replacement of existing shoreline armor)
  3. Removal (removal of existing shoreline armor without replacement)

Replacements are projects greater than 20 feet in length that remove and replace armor. Some replacement projects use the same materials and location of the existing armor while other replacements involve the removal and replacement of existing armor that changed the types of materials used or altered the alignment relative to the shoreline (i.e., landward or waterward of the existing structure). A project may have elements of new, removed, and replaced armor; each of these components are tracked independently in the permitting database. Replacement permit data are provided for context but are not included in the assessment of indicator progress and status. Repairs to shoreline armor (minor replacement of existing armor less than 20 feet in the same location) are common HPA projects but are not reported in this analysis because the projects do not appreciably alter the footprint, type or length of armor, and therefore, shoreline condition is unchanged.

Critical Definitions
  • Shoreline armor refers to structures like bulkheads, seawalls, and rip rap.
  • Hydraulic Project Approval: Washington State law (RCW 77.55) requires people planning hydraulic projects in or near state waters to get a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). This includes most marine and fresh waters. An HPA ensures that construction is done in a manner that protects fish and their aquatic habitats.
  • Hydraulic Code: WDFW administers the HPA program under the state Hydraulic Code, which is specifically for the protection of fish life.
Interpretation of Results

The total length of shoreline armor in Puget Sound decreased from 2011 to 2020 by 0.14 miles (739 feet). Projects involving removal of shoreline armor are on the rise, with 5.4 miles (28,404 feet) removed since 2005 and 0.7 miles (3732 feet) removed in 2020. The majority (90%) of armor length removed since 2005 occurred between 2011 and 2020. More armor was permitted for removal than for new construction in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Replacement of existing shoreline armor was the most common permitted project from 2005 to 2020. Approximately 17.5 miles (92,263 feet) of shoreline armor was replaced from 2011 to 2020 as compared to 4.7 miles (24,869 feet) of new armor and 4.85 miles (25,583 feet) of removed.

Length of shoreline armor replacement compared to new and removed armor by year from 2005-2020.


Replacement shoreline armor projects accounted for 69 percent of the total armor projects by number permitted by HPA from 2015 to 2020. During this time period, removal projects averaged 334 feet in length for each permit, while new armor projects averaged 127 feet in length and replacement projects 120 feet in length. Several large-scale restoration projects contributed to the higher average length for armor removal projects.

Number of permits issued for new, removed, replaced, and mixed shoreline armor projects by year from 2015 to 2020. Mixed projects included replacement of armor, along with either removal or installation of new armor.


Of the permitted replacement projects in 2016 to 2020, 60 percent of the total replacement armor length was replaced in the same location relative to tidal elevation, while 34 percent was replaced landward of the former armor location, uncovering portions of the upper beach. Total shoreline length, shoreforms and length of previously constructed shoreline armor should be considered when reviewing new, replaced and removed permits for each year, as these factors vary within the geographic boundaries of each county.

Location of replacement armor relative to original shoreline armor location from 2016 to 2020. Replacement armor was in the same location, landward or waterward of the original location.


Of the 1041 marine shoreline armor permits issued from 2011 to 2020 in the 12 Puget Sound counties, projects within the geographic boundaries of four counties (Island, Kitsap, Mason and Pierce) accounted for 68 percent of the total projects for new, removed or replaced armor. These four counties all have relatively long shoreline lengths and collectively account for half of the total shoreline in Puget Sound.

Number of permits issued by Puget Sound counties for new, removed, replaced, and mixed armor projects from 2011 to 2020.


New armor was permitted for construction in all 12 Puget Sound counties between 2011 and 2020. The majority (80 percent) of new shoreline armor by length was permitted for construction within the geographic boundaries of six counties (Pierce, Mason, Island, Skagit, San Juan, and Kitsap).

Armor was permitted for removal from 12 Puget Sound counties between 2011 and 2020. Armor removal in Kitsap and Clallam Counties accounted for 43 percent of armor removal by length with 1.9 miles (9978 feet) removed. Removal projects include both large scale shoreline restoration projects and smaller projects that are part of local Shore Friendly programs.

Percent of the total Puget Sound new and removed shoreline armor length within county geographic boundaries between 2011 and 2020.

New Armor

Removed Armor

  Clallam 6.8% 21.7%
  Island 12.2% 8.1%
  Jefferson 4.2% 5.6%
  King 2.0% 6.9%
  Kitsap 12.1% 18.4%
  Mason 14.7% 5.1%
  Pierce 20.1% 10.4%
  San Juan 10.4% 6.4%
  Skagit 10.7% 3.4%
  Snohomish 1.3% 6.6%
  Thurston 4.2% 7.2%
  Whatcom 1.5% 0.1%


New armor is particularly extensive along residential shorelines for single family residences, accounting for 60.2 percent of the total new shoreline armor length between 2011 and 2020. Government agencies applied for 27.2 percent of the permitted new armor, often associated with bank protection along road corridors. Commercial/industrial, multi-family residences, and non-profit agencies collectively accounted for 12.7 percent of the total length of new shoreline armor permits.

In contrast, shoreline armor removal applicants were more evenly divided between commercial/industrial owners, non-profit and government agencies, and single family residences. Single family residence applicants made up 24.7 percent of the total, although non-profit and government agencies are often working in partnership with residential landowners on armor removal projects. Agricultural applicants did not account removal projects between 2011 and 2020, although some new projects occurred on agricultural lands.

Table 2. Percent of the total Puget Sound new and removed shoreline armor length by applicant type between 2011 and 2020. (Note: the HPA database does not specify whether the applicant type pertains to the property land owner where the project will occur. An applicant may pursue a permit on behalf of a landowner).
Applicant Type New Armor Removed Armor
  Agriculture 4.8% --
  Commercial/Industrial 3.5% 17.9%
  Government 27.2% 35.2%
  Multiple Family Use 1.2% --
  Non-Profit Agency 3.2% 22.2%
  Single Family Residence 60.2% 24.7%



Armor removal projects increased between 2011 and 2020 while the rate of new shoreline armor construction slowed. A continued positive trend in removals, which has occurred since 2005 albeit at a slower rate, is likely associated with 1) an increased awareness of the impacts to shoreline functions caused by armor, and 2) the efforts by restoration groups to address the problem by seeking potential removal opportunities.

New armor, however, continues to be constructed at an average rate of 0.47 miles per year from 2011–2020 (range 0.18–0.93 miles). This apparent contradiction is in part because the situations where new armor is occurring are quite different than those where it is being removed. New armor construction is driven by a perception of risk—sometimes a very real risk—to property and safety. New armor may occur following severe storms and landslides and may be done as an emergency measure, and therefore may not receive the scrutiny normally applied to such projects.

Shorelines are inherently dynamic. Much new armor is likely occurring on properties that were laid out or developed decades ago, without sufficient attention to erosion and flood hazards. The increase in property owners seeking alternative solutions, such as soft shore protection, is worth further investigation to define the motivation to consider alternatives to traditional hard armor practices.

Finally, the HPA database does not account for projects that do not require an HPA permit, projects that are out of compliance, or illegal shoreline modifications. Unpermitted shoreline activities likely occur throughout Puget Sound and more work needs to be done to document and assess the impacts of these projects. WDFW will be implementing a new compliance program in 2021 to achieve better project outcomes through outreach with landowners and contractors during construction and monitoring compliance with Hydraulic Project Approval requirements.

Restoration groups appear to have become increasingly successful at obtaining funding from grant programs for armor removal projects as indicated by both the scale and number of removals in recent years. In addition, public facilities such as state and county parks have become a large component of the armor removal trend. There have also been changes in the material used for armor such that almost half of the new construction projects permitted include elements of soft shore protection (i.e. use of natural materials such as logs, gravels), as opposed to traditional hard armor with large rock, rip rap or concrete. This is also evident in armor replacement projects, with increased use of soft shore protection materials.

Grant funds have also contributed to increased outreach to shoreline property owners, agency staff, contractors, and others who have an interest in the condition of Puget Sound shorelines. Recent studies have provided demographic information on shoreline property owners to facilitate outreach activities that resonate with these owners who have considerable influence on shoreline activities. In addition, most of the local governments on Puget Sound have recently updated Shoreline Master Programs (SMP) in accordance with the new state guidelines. These updates are expected to result in a reduced amount of shoreline armor in the future, however, current data do not yet reflect potential effects of the new SMPs. The combination of increased awareness, landowner assistance, technical guidance and improved regulatory guidance may allow continued improvement in this indicator.

The Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP) compiled and reported on changes to shorelines in Puget Sound over the past several decades in a change analysis in 2011. This data was updated with shoreline survey work conducted as part of the Beach Strategies project, resulting in a map of current armoring. Shoreline armor is present on 715 miles (29 percent) of Puget Sound shorelines (see map on the Vital Signs tab of this report).


Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Protection Permitting System

Shore Friendly Program

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines

Beach Strategies on the Salish Sea Wiki

Beach Strategies Phase 1 Summary Report, prepared by Coastal Geologic Services, Inc.

Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP)


No datasets uploaded.

Reporting Guidance
Reporting Instructions

Not applicable to this Vital Sign indicator

Permitting Type
Replaced, New, Removed, Cumulative Net Length