Bluff recession poses a threat to the Pennsylvania Lake Erie economy, environment, and safety of its residents. Bluff recession refers the loss of material along the bluff face caused by the direct or indirect action by one or a combination of groundwater seepage, water currents, wind generated water waves, or high water levels. Bluff recession is a normal process; however, human influenced factors such as stormwater runoff, wastewater management, and land development practices may significantly increase the rate of recession. Pennsylvania possesses approximately 76.6 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, dominated by unconsolidated bluffs ranging in height from 5 to 180 feet above lake level. The Lake Erie shoreline also includes over 52 stream mouths and associated floodplain lowlands; recreational, commercial and industrial waterfront; public-access points; private and community properties along the nine municipalities that possess lakefront.
Physical losses associated with bluff recession, including the loss of land at the top of the bluff face by mass wasting, threaten Pennsylvania’s coastal economy. Economic losses associated with bluff recession include loss of property, loss of tax base, loss of coastal agricultural land, loss of recreational opportunity, structural losses, and mitigation costs. While natural bluff processes are essential for the ecological health of Lake Erie, accelerated recession associated with human activities pose a threat to the Lake Erie ecosystem. Research suggests that because of their high clay and silt content, pulses of bluff-supplied sediments along the Pennsylvania shore degrade nearshore water quality.
Pennsylvania Sea Grant provides leadership in developing bluff management guidance, assessing bluff recession rates along the Pennsylvania Lake Erie bluff, and facilitating bluff management workshops for stakeholders.