Creating resilient coastlines and adaptive communities in order to confront the rising lake levels

As lake levels rise, the effects along the shoreline can be destructive and, at times, deadly. (Above) The Black Rocks at Marquette’s Presque Park have long been a favorite spot for summertime recreation. (Below) Today, high lake water levels now make it possible for waves to completely deluge the tall cliffs during storms. Two people were killed in this location during a severe storm in October 2017. A record wave of 28.8 feet high was recorded during that storm. (Photos by Jerry Mills)

Story and graphics by Superior Watershed Partnership staff

That staggering fact bears repeating; Lake Superior water levels have risen over three feet since 2013. Combine record lake levels with more frequent and more extreme storm events and it is a recipe for disaster. Almost every coastal community on Lake Superior from Duluth to Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie has reported unprecedented coastal erosion and infrastructure damages.
Marquette is no exception. Fortunately, the City of Marquette, in cooperation with the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) and other local partners, has been working for over a decade to better plan, prepare and adapt to address the impacts of climate change. This article provides a brief chronology of Marquette’s coastal challenges as well as coastal success stories, including the recent $2.5 million federal grant to implement a large-scale coastal restoration project that will begin this spring.

In 2012, Marquette received a planning grant through the Michigan Coastal Management Program to develop restoration alternatives for almost a mile of city shoreline immediately adjacent to and including Lakeshore Boulevard. Working with Baird Coastal Engineering the city selected a design concept after hosting a series of public input sessions in cooperation with the SWP.
Unfortunately, even the best plans simply sit on the shelf and gather dust if there is no funding to implement the project and that is exactly what happened with the Baird plan for many years. Meanwhile, other forces were at work.
Record warm followed by record cold
The year 2012 was a record warm year for Lake Superior. It was followed by the winter of 2013-2014 and a polar vortex that ushered in record cold temperatures resulting in nearly one hundred percent ice coverage of Lake Superior.
Climatologists credit that ice coverage and the resulting reduced evaporation as one factor that led to the rise in Lake Superior water levels. 2013 was also the year that the SWP released the “Lake Superior Climate Adaptation, Mitigation and Implementation Plan”. Produced in cooperation with Great Lakes Integrated Science Assessments, Climate Solutions University and other partners, the document was designed to assist coastal communities in identifying and prioritizing climate risks and adaptation actions.
Later that same year the Marquette Planning Department and Planning Commission released a comprehensive new planning document titled “Adapting to Climate Change and Variability” with detailed adaptation recommendations specifically for Marquette.

For the full story please pick up a copy of Marquette Monthly from one of our distributors

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