A review of Puget Sound marine and nearshore grant program results, Part 3

A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 27 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program.  The report is an analysis of findings on shoreline restoration and derelict net and fishing gear removal. 

report cover: Analysis of strategic capital investments for habitat restoration and protection
Report cover: Analysis of strategic capital investments for habitat restoration and protection

Key results

Since 2011, the Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Grant Program has invested National Estuary Program (NEP) funds to implement priorities outlined in the Action Agenda for Puget Sound. Habitat restoration and protection has been a major focus of the program, with 27 restoration, acquisition, social marketing, and education/outreach, and social marketing grants funded through 2014.

The projects described in this report are the result of $7,228,000 in NEP investments matched by over $17,414,000 of state funding. Measurable results* of these investments include:

  •   48 acres of subtidal rocky reef habitat uncovered by removal of 220 derelict fishing nets;
  •   423 acres of restored and/or enhanced tidal hydrology at 3 major river deltas (19% of progress
  • reported to date for the Estuaries Vital Sign indicator target);
  •   57 acres of restored and/or enhanced tidal hydrology in 2 small estuaries;
  •   0.92 mile (4,801 linear feet) of shoreline armor removed (37% of progress reported to date for the armor removal component of the Shoreline Armoring Vital Sign indicator target);
  •   373 acres of shoreline habitat and 2.85 miles (13,582 feet) of shoreline permanently protected;
  •   600 toxic creosote pilings removed; and
  •   interpretive signs at 6 beach restoration sites and 3 videos intended to build public and landowner awareness of the importance of shoreline processes for a healthy Puget Sound.

* These output numbers suggest more precision than likely exists. The shoreline length metrics were recorded in miles protected or restored, which is a coarser scale than is appropriate for smaller sites.

Project outcomes

Most of the restoration projects described in this report involved removal of impairments (dikes and bulkheads) to underlying physical processes (tidal hydrology and sediment supply/transport) that build and maintain habitats upon which species like salmon depend. For example, restoring sediment supply through armor removal is expected to result in beaches with elevations and substrate characteristics necessary to support forage fish spawning. Since forage fish are critical in Puget Sound’s food web, the benefits associated with restoring these geomorphic processes would ultimately extend to mammals, birds, and salmon. The ultimate goal of this focus on process-based, rather than species-based, restoration is self-sufficient systems that maintain themselves with little or no subsequent human intervention.

Owing to the recent timing of the restoration projects, specific physical and biological outcomes in the estuaries and beaches where projects occurred have not yet been sufficiently measured. Therefore, this report focuses on evaluating project costs relative to the area restored. There was a very large range of calculated cost per acre values, with beach projects being significantly more expensive compared to estuary projects. Further analysis revealed that this variation is a result of non-equivalent reporting of area restored (or “treated”) for these groups of projects.

For beach projects, “area restored” refers to locations where construction activity occurred. For most of the estuary projects, the reported area restored also includes lands adjacent to the construction footprint where tidal inundation was reintroduced. Armor removal and beach nourishment would similarly be expected to improve habitat outside of the immediate construction area, but changes to beach structure and addition of sediment resulting from beach restoration are more difficult to measure and have not been quantified to date. This discrepancy between measurements understates the benefits of beach projects relative to estuary projects, and has implications for cost-effectiveness evaluations conducted for both program performance evaluations and proposal ranking/selection. A major lesson of this analysis, therefore, is that robust cost-benefit analyses of beach restoration projects should extend beyond the linear shoreline feet where the project occurred, to include the full “footprint” of the restoration efforts, including intertidal and subtidal habitats affected.

We offer a conceptual model for organizing direct outputs and resulting outcomes that can be applied during proposal review/ranking processes, as well as to guide monitoring and adaptive management efforts, to encourage recognition of this nuanced distinction.


(1) While reviewing and ranking armor removal proposals, strive to maximize potential project outcomes by including sediment supply and transport (as the key habitat-forming process for Puget Sound beaches) rather than exclusively focusing on the construction zone and outputs such as length of armor removed. The scale of a project relative to the size of its drift cell and the proportion of the drift cell with functional sediment dynamics are important evaluation criteria in this context. Keep in mind that the 2016 ranked list of armor removal Near Term Actions (NTA)1 was the results of a scoring process that lacked these considerations.

(2) Use existing technical tools related to shoreline mapping, sediment input, and drift cell prioritization to identify areas where beach restoration and Shore Friendly incentive investments would have the most impact.

(3) Continue to support monitoring of project performance relative to intended physical and biological outcomes. In the near-term, emphasize investment in monitoring beach geomorphology after armor removal projects because this information is most crucial for optimizing selection of future projects.

Additional recommendations for specific categories of investments are included throughout the report. Where applicable, we note where our recommendations relate to specific NTA proposals included in the 2016 Action Agenda Update.

Download the full report


Kinney, A., Francis, T., & Rice, J. (2016). Analysis of strategic capital investments for habitat restoration and protection: A review of grant program results, part 3. Tacoma, WA: University of Washington Puget Sound Institute.

About the Author: 
Aimee Kinney, Tessa Francis, and Jeff Rice are with the University of Washington's Puget Sound Institute.