Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Coastal Management

Coastal Development

Map of NYS showing the coastal lines in yellow

Protecting New York Coastlines

The yellow line represents the New York State coastal waters:

  • Lake Erie and the Niagara River;
  • Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River;
  • Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound;
  • Hudson River south of the federal dam in Troy;
  • East River and Harlem River;
  • Kill van Kull and Arthur Kill; and
  • all connecting water bodies, bays, harbors, shallows, and wetlands.

These coastal areas are at risk to coastal erosion from natural and human activities. DEC has mapped coastal erosion hazard areas which include:

  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Ontario
  • Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound

Access mapped CEHA areas by county. These areas need a Coastal Erosion Hazard Area (CEHA) permit (Article 34 Part 505 (leaves DEC's website)).

How DEC Protects Coastal Areas

DEC protects natural protective features beaches, dunes, and bluffs. These features absorb the wave energy of open water. Dunes and bluffs are especially effective against storm-induced high water. They are also reservoirs of sand, gravel, offshore sandbars, and shoal formations.

Coastal erosion threatens life and property, which through regulation of:

  • land use;
  • development;
  • new construction;
  • placement of structures;
  • design and construction of structures; and
  • natural protective features in coastal areas.

DEC can protect our coastline.

New York State has a Coastal Erosion Hazard Area (CEHA) permit program. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Civil Works Program addresses coastal erosion. DEC works with the USACE to study coastal erosion and develop solutions. These are usually large scale projects that impact entire communities.

New York State prevents and reduces coastal erosion by:

  • promoting natural protective features including dunes, bluffs, and beaches;
  • restricting or prohibiting activities or development in natural protective feature areas;
  • ensuring new construction is a safe distance from the impact of coastal storms;
  • regulating construction of coastal erosion protection including natural protective features;
  • restricting public-funded projects which encourage permanent development in coastal erosion hazard areas;
  • Public funded coastal erosion protection projects need to:
    • Mitigate coastal erosion damage where necessary to protect human life;
    • Prove the public benefit, of such structures, outweighs the public expenditures;
    • Establishing procedural standards for local program implementation;
    • Create standards for coastal erosion management permits (Part 505 (leaves DEC's website)).

Why manage coastal erosion areas?

Some of New York's coastline are especially vulnerable to coastal erosion. This erosion happens through natural actions and human activities. Erosion is the loss or displacement of land along the coastline.

Coastline erosion happens due to:

  • the action of waves;
  • currents or tides;
  • wind-driven water;
  • waterborne ice;
  • or other impacts of storms;
  • wind;
  • runoff of surface waters; or
  • groundwater seepage.

Vulnerable coastal erosion areas cause extensive damage. This damage includes property, natural resources and endangers human lives. There are significant economic losses to individuals, private businesses and the state's economy. Coastal erosion damage is expensive. Large amounts of public funds are used to remove debris and ruined structures. This includes replacing essential public facilities and services after storm damage.

The management of coastal erosion hazard areas helps to protect:

  • coastal habitat areas;
  • inland natural resources;
  • homes and businesses; and
  • communities from wind and water erosion, including storm-induced high water.

Natural causes of coastal erosion

Coastal erosion is a natural phenomenon. With endless sediment redistribution, this process transforms beaches, dunes and bluffs. Forces that move sediment along the coast are:

  • waves;
  • currents;
  • tides;
  • wind-driven water;
  • ice;
  • rainwater runoff;
  • groundwater seepage;
  • length of fetch;
  • wind direction and speed;
  • wave length height and period;
  • nearshore water depth;
  • tidal influence; and
  • overall strength and duration of storm events.

Combinations of these factors and events can amplify increasing water levels. Increasing storm rise and distance waves reach inland are also factors of erosion. Damaging waves and ice "plates" along the shore cause erosion. The effect is reducing sand from beaches and allowing water further inland. This intensifies coastal erosion of beaches, dunes, and bluffs.

Ocean coastal flooding is water rising above normal tidal elevation. Strong winds and/or high tides drive ocean water inland causing flooding. The water comes through inlets, waterways, channels, and wetlands. Great Lakes flooding occurs when strong wind and storms increase water levels. When coastal flooding occurs, it is a temporary and sudden condition.

Human causes of coastal erosion

Human activities can increase coastal erosion of sandy beaches, dunes, and bluffs. This includes construction, shipping, boating, and recreation. These events play a major role in the coastal erosion process. Human actions can speed up the coastal erosion process.

Humans contribute to the coastal erosion by:

  • removing vegetation;
  • exposing bare soil to be easily eroded by wind, wave and precipitation;
  • directing runoff from streets, parking lots, roofs, and other locations over a bluff; or
  • by constructing "hardened" structures along the coastline, reflect wave energy onto adjacent shorelines, or cause deepening of the nearshore area.

Day-to-day human activities speed up coastal erosion processes in some places. Development may damage or alter natural protective features. The protection these features prevent coastal erosion and storm damage.
These activities include:

  • building without considering the potential for damage to property or natural protective features;
  • activities which destroy natural protective features such as dunes or bluffs and their vegetation;
  • building structures intended for coastal erosion prevention which may exacerbate coastal erosion conditions on adjacent or nearby properties; and
  • wakes from boats that produce wave action on the shoreline.

Coastal erosion protective structures, public or private, are extremely costly. These structures, effective over time, may increase the erosion potential to adjacent or nearby properties.

More about Coastal Management:

  • Coastal Areas Regulated by the CEHA Permit Program - Check Coastal Erosion Hazard Area (CEHA) maps for your location; the Coastal Erosion Hazard Area (CEHA) Permit Program provides written approval of regulated activities or land disturbance to properties within the coastal erosion hazard areas within DEC's jurisdiction. The program also assists certified communities to administer and enforce local programs.
  • Coastal Erosion Control Design - guidelines for designing structures
  • Resiliency and Economic Development Guidance - Learn more about technical and regulatory requirements, best practices, and available resources for the rebuilding efficiently and effectively along the dynamic shorelines of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River.