Bioengineered Solutions

Over the past 15 to 20 years, more environmentally sensitive shoreline erosion solutions that use live plants have become increasingly popular. The practice of bioengineering uses both the soil-protecting qualities of plants along with man-made structures to create sustainable, living lakeshores.

In June 2000, the Garden received U.S. EPA funding under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act through a grant from the Illinois EPA. This project (hereinafter referred to as the "Section 319 Project") has allowed the Garden to restore 1.1 miles of its most critically degraded shoreline and create 2.2 acres of lakeshore habitat. Through this project, over 80,000 new native shoreline plants have been established to vegetate the lakeshores. The plant species were carefully chosen for their ability to anchor shoreline soils and withstand environmental stresses inherent to urban waterways. Each of the plantings was carefully documented so that over time, Garden scientists and collaborators can learn more about the plants' ecology and environmental tolerances.

The goals of the shoreline improvements were to arrest shoreline erosion, reduce nonpoint source pollution, and create extensive wetland and aquatic habitat while improving the aesthetic character of the Garden lakeshores. Prior to restoration, the lakeshore had severely eroded banks that varied from 1 foot to more than 3 feet in height. The grade of the eroded slope also varied; however, the majority of the slopes were about 1H:1V with some areas being nearly vertical. The eroded banks were generally bare soil with occasional cattails and a scattered plants clinging to the shoreline edge; most of the plants were noxious weeds and invasive aquatic species (e.g., purple loosestrife).