Bluff Management

Topic Overview

Pennsylvania holds approximately 76.6 miles of Lake Erie shoreline within nine municipalities of Erie County, Pennsylvania. The shoreline contains over 52 stream mouths and associated floodplain lowlands, several recreational related public access points and parks, commercial and industrial waterfront businesses, and many private and community properties. Pennsylvania’s shoreline is also dominated by unconsolidated bluffs ranging in height from 5 to 180 feet above lake level. The Lake Erie Bluffs that reside in Erie County are a result of glaciation over the regional landscape from thousands of years ago and are constantly changing, evolving, and receding. Data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Coastal Resources Management Program estimates the rate of erosion to be approximately 1-foot per year along Pennsylvania’s shoreline. Bluff recession is 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 natural process; however, human-influenced factors such as stormwater runoff, wastewater management, and land development practices may increase the rate of recession. 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 and environment. Economic losses associated with bluff recession include losses of property, tax base, coastal agricultural land, recreational opportunity, structures, and mitigation costs. Because of their high clay and silt content, pulses of bluff-supplied sediments along the Pennsylvania shore have the potential to degrade nearshore water quality.

News and Initiatives

  • Pennsylvania Lake Erie Bluff Erosion Potential Index Researchers from Penn State Behrend and the Pennsylvania Sea Grant College Program are currently developing a web-based Bluff Erosion Potential Index (BEPI) tool that will identify the factors most likely contributing to the bluff erosion along the Pennsylvania Lake Erie shoreline, and identify areas of high, medium, and low erosion potential.

  • Pennsylvania Lake Erie Bluff Recession Analysis Researchers from Penn State Behrend and the Pennsylvania Sea Grant College Program are currently conducting a geospatial analysis of historical and present bluff geometry using state-of-the-art remotely sensed data and ground-truthing within a GIS framework to assess bluff recession rates along the Pennsylvania Lake Erie coastline. Bluff recession rates are being calculated by comparing bluff-crest lines delineated from LiDAR and orthoimagery collected in both 2012 and 2015.

  • Pennsylvania Lake Erie Bluff Recession Control Point Monitoring The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Resources Management Program actively monitors approximately 130 established control points along Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie shoreline. These control points are used to determine local annual rates of bluff recession, help identify Bluff Recession Hazard Areas, and help determine minimum bluff setback distances in accordance with the Chapter 85 Bluff Recession and Setback regulations.

  • Pennsylvania Lake Erie Bluff Management Guide The Pennsylvania Coastal Resources Management Program provides technical assistance to property owners through on-site assessments and data reviews, which rely upon physical site assessments, aerial imagery reviews, web-based and geographic information system data reviews, and personal accounts from property owners and municipal officials. Recommendations for coastal property owners are provided for shoreline protection, surface and groundwater control, bluff stabilization, and vegetation best management practices. To enhance these services and information, the Pennsylvania Sea Grant College Program and Penn State Behrend are developing a Pennsylvania Lake Erie Bluff Management Guide. The guide will include bluff management guidance for municipalities, present the results of the bluff recession analysis, describe the BEPI tool, and provide recommendations and priorities for bluff recession management.

  • Bluff Recession Setback Act The Bluff Recession and Setback Act was enacted in 1980 to ensure that bluff edges are provided with adequate undeveloped margins to allow for natural landward migration of the bluff while limiting risks to existing and proposed structures. Such setbacks protect the health and safety of residents, as well as property investments. For further guidance on the Bluff Recession Setback Act click here.

  • Oblique Imagery The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection collects Oblique Angle Photography through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation every other year to help provide technical assistance to property owners and local government officials. It also helps track coastal development, bluff recession occurrences, and provides chronological depiction of bluff recessional events.


Bluff Management

Document Publication Year Resource Type
PDF icon Bluff Management Guide Final (2021).pdf 2021 Plans Manuals
PDF icon Bluff Analysis Report (2021).pdf 2021 Research Reports
PDF icon Lake_Erie_Bluff_Crest_Mapping_Project_Report.pdf 2016 Research Reports
PDF icon ErieLakeshore_Imagery_Acquistion_Report_September.pdf 2015 Research Reports
PDF icon 2015_Lake Erie Watershed_LiDAR_Report.pdf 2015 Research Reports