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In civil engineering of shorelines, soft engineering is the use of ecological principles and practices to reduce erosion and achieve the stabilization and safety of shorelines and the area surrounding rivers, while enhancing habitat, improving aesthetics, and saving money. Soft engineering is achieved by using vegetation and other materials to soften the land-water interface, thereby improving ecological features without compromising the engineered integrity of the shoreline or river edges.
Unlike hard engineering where typically has no habitat value for fish or wildlife, soft engineering incorporates habitat for fish and wildlife. The Detroit River is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Great Lakes Basin. In 1998, the U.S.–Canada State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) identified the Detroit River–Lake St. Clair ecosystem as one of 20 Biodiversity Investment Areas in the entire Great Lakes Basin ecosystem with exceptional diversity of plants, fish, and birds, and the requisite habitats to support them. The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference went on to call for special efforts to protect these unique ecological features. Many people who appreciate the outdoors know that the Detroit River supports a nationally renowned sport fishery. For example, the City of Trenton, located on the Trenton Channel at the lower end of the Detroit River, hosted a major walleye fishing tournament called "Walleye Week" in 1999. "Walleye Week" attracted people from all over North America to compete in the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Tournament, the Team Walleye Tournament, and the Michigan Walleye Tournament offering $240,000 in prize money. It is estimated that walleye fishing alone brings in $1,000,000 to the economy of communities along the lower Detroit River each spring.
Another reason why soft engineering practices should be encouraged is because it is well recognized that there is limited public access to the Detroit River, particularly on the United States side. Use of multiple-objective soft engineering of shorelines will increase public access to the river.
There are also economic benefits associated with use of soft engineering. In general, soft engineering of shorelines is typically less expensive than hard engineering of shorelines. Additionally, long-term maintenance costs of soft engineering are generally lower because soft engineering uses living structures, which tend to mature and stabilize with time.