Soil Erosion Control Practices Along Detroit's Urban Waterfront
The Detroit River,
Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority
Basin Program Funds:
Many river shorelines have been stabilized and hardened with concrete and steel
to provide passage for commercial navigation or industry, to protect developments
from flooding and/or to control erosion. Such hard engineering techniques are
expensive and provide no habitat for fish or other aquatic life. Opportunities
exist along the Detroit River, an American Heritage River, to demonstrate and
implement soft engineering techniques that will not only control erosion and
enhance wildlife habitat, but will also improve the aesthetics and save money..
The Detroit River is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Great
Lakes basin and provides a good opportunity to raise awareness of the need to
restore and protect habitat using soft engineering techniques. Soft engineering
uses native plants in combination with geotextile fabrics to stabilize the shoreline.
Demonstration projects of soft engineering techniques have already been implemented
at ten locations along the Detroit River including this most recent demonstration
in Belle Isle, a 980 acre park located in the Detroit River. Project staff chose
Lake Muskoday on the northeastern end of Belle Isle, as a demonstration site
primarily because of its proximity to a road and the existing severe erosion
problems that presented a challenge to concerned stakeholders.
Many organizations collaborated with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority
in this demonstration and site stabilization effort, including members of the
Greater Detroit American Heritage Rivers Initiative, the Natural Resource Conservation
Service (NRCS) and NTH Consultants, Ltd, who provided technical support for
the design. The City of Detroit Recreation Department provided the site on Belle
Isle. Project staff applied for and obtained a permit, identified locations
for harvesting live and inert plant material, submitted
a request for proposals and selected a contractor.
Project staff organized a two-day workshop that included classroom instruction
and hands-on experience implementing the soft engineering techniques on the
shore of Lake Muskoday. Over 40 public officials, private contractors, regulators,
landscape architects and city maintenance workers participated in the workshop
and subsequent work day. Many of these people were already involved in soft
engineering projects or interested in learning the techniques for controlling
Prior to the workshop, the contractor, Cameron Contracting of Wixom, Michigan,
prepared the site by removing broken concrete and trash, sloped the soil and
laid down a grass matting to protect the site from further erosion. Project
staff obtained live plant materials several days before the workshop. During
the workshop, participants learned about the techniques they were going to be
employing in the field and shared insights from previous projects with which
they had been involved.
The contractor cut back the eroded banks with a backhoe and excavated to provide
a place for the geotextile fabric. Volunteers then installed live fascines,
brush mattresses and vegetative geogrids above the rock toe to further stabilize
Fascines are bundled branches, usually willow or dogwood, that are tied together
with twine. Inert fascines were used along the shoreline, while live fascines
were used further up slope. Brush mattresses are made from live willow and/or
dogwood branches and are used in a similar fashion as erosion control netting.
The mattresses are secured to the slope with dead stout stakes. The vegetated
geogrid process involves placing rock riprap at the edge of the shoreline and
then creating steps up the slope of the shoreline using a geotextile mattress.
Live cuttings are placed in between each step.
Project staff and volunteers stabilized over 300 feet of shoreline along Lake
Muskoday, enhancing the environment for waterfowl and fish population and reducing
soil erosion, keeping an estimated 15 pounds of soil, 160 pounds of phosphorus
and 32 pounds of nitrogen from eroding into the Detroit River. The volunteers
gained a great deal of knowledge and first-hand experience about the benefits
and challenges of stabilizing shorelines using soft engineering techniques.
This information will prove useful as they are faced with similar problems in
the future. Beyond the one and a half year grant period, project staff expect
to reach an additional 200 elected officials and public agencies with this demonstration
Project staff, in partnership with many organizations, agencies and private
consultants, succeeded in demonstrating innovative soft engineering techniques
along the Detroit River. Through this process, Belle Isle visitors will learn
about the alternatives to hard engineering, as they are exposed to the aesthetically
pleasing shoreline of Lake Muskoday. The stablization of Lake Muskoday has also
enhanced the wildlife habitat along the lake. The Port Authority's long term
hope is that this project will inspire on large-scale and more efficient and
cost-effective shoreline erosion control methods along Detroit's Belle Isle
and the Detroit River as a whole.
Contact: John Kerr, (313) 331-3842