Should You Build a Retaining Wall along Your Shoreline?
We almost never recommend building retaining walls along a shoreline, especially near the Ordinary High Water Level (OHWL).
- Because moisture levels in the soil near your shoreline cause an extraordinary amount of ground movement during freeze-and-thaw cycles. This makes it extremely challenging for your retaining wall to remain level and square year after year.
- Often retaining walls built along shorelines get worn down by wave action, which eventually causes a complete wall failure.
- During the winter months, retaining walls give slowly expanding ice sheets something solid and vertical to push against. This is BAD news for your wall. Your new retaining wall will lose the battle against ice jacking. You are much better off with a properly riprapped, sloped shoreline, which provides the opportunity for the expanding ice to slide gradually up the shoreline instead of pushing directly against the wall/shoreline. (See how our shorelines defend against ice damage.)
- Retaining walls are very damaging to the near-shore environment. They cause wave action, which scours the lakebed, displaces bottom sediment, and creates a sterile environment devoid of life. Wall structures on a lake can disrupt and destroy ecosystems of fish and other wildlife.
By the way, a riprap shoreline is also the best (and only good) alternative to a breakwall or bulkhead wall.