The Shoreline Evaluation Program (SEP) is an educational outreach effort of the Northern Neck Master Gardeners. Since 2012, the program has provided property owners with recommendations for improving upland stormwater management, controlling pollutant and sediment runoff, and addressing shoreline erosion.

SEP Evaluation Team
        SEP Evaluation Team members performing a site visit.

The SEP program had a waiting list of homeowners requesting shoreline evaluations at the end of 2019. The first few months of 2020 brought more applications. Then, COVID-19 restrictions brought activities to a halt.

“We start visiting properties in April and continue until the end of October,” said Ian Cheyne, leader of the SEP group. “We try to respond to all the applications we receive by the end of the season, but in 2019 demand exceeded our capacity. It was especially frustrating that COVID-19 kept us from catching up or accepting new applications during the spring months this year.”

“We took advantage of the forced downtime to restructure our evaluation process to make it more comprehensive while reducing the turn-around time,” Cheyne continued. “We updated and expanded our ‘SEP Homeowners Shoreline Management Guide’ and trained additional team members which will enable us to undertake more activities in the post-COVID-19 era.”

In July, some of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The SEP team was back in full operation by September, and the backlog of applications was eliminated by the end of November.

“Sediment from wave erosion and stormwater runoff carries nutrients and toxins and is the major pollutant affecting the water quality of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” Cheyne said. “The Shoreline Evaluation Program is focused on helping Northern Neck homeowner reduce sedimentation from eroding soils.”

Climate change in eastern North America is bringing increased rainfall and heavier storms making property stormwater management more important. Coupled with gradual sea-level rise, both effects add new challenges to waterfront property management.

SEP Team Member Gail Cooper Measuring Water Depth at Dock
SEP Team Member Gail Cooper measures water depth at dock

When a request is received from a homeowner for an evaluation, a team of SEP members is assigned to visit the property and conduct a comprehensive evaluation. The team develops a detailed report identifying concerns and recommending strategies to address identified vulnerabilities and issues.

The homeowner receives the report along with a copy of the “SEP Homeowner’s Guide to Shoreline Management.” The Homeowner’s Guide includes information about shoreline protection, creating and managing an effective shoreline buffer, dealing with stormwater management, lists of native plants, and other useful information. The SEP team also follows up with the homeowner after the evaluation.


Homeowners looking for assistance with shoreline problems are encouraged to apply now for evaluations in 2021. Available slots go quickly. To apply, go to and download and complete the evaluation application form. Mail the completed application following the instruction on the form. There is a $60 fee for the evaluation. Homeowners may also call the Lancaster County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension at (804) 462-5780 for information.

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