Preparing for Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region

Kirsten Feifel
Posted on: 1/19/2010 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

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Kirsten Feifel

Project Summary

In June 2008, Michigan Sea Grant hosted forty representatives from Great Lakes foundations, non-governmental organizations, agencies, and universities at a one-day symposium entitled “Preparing for Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region.” Collaborators included the Mott Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Kresge Foundation, the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, and the University of Michigan. The focus of the workshop was specifically on adaptation measures to climate change. The objective of the workshop was to identify policy changes and implementation strategies that will enable the Great Lakes region to adapt to climate change and protect major ecosystems. In February 2009, Michigan Sea Grant published the results of the workshop in a summary report. The document includes guiding principles for adaptation, areas for policy change, and short case studies that exemplify key recommendations and implementation strategies in other cities.


The workshop originated after multiple, informal conversations amongst regional foundations about how the Great Lakes basin could adapt to climate change. Workshop participants were considered to be leaders within their field on climate change with representatives from the federal government, foundations, academia, and advocacy groups. The goals of the workshop facilitators were to begin a dialogue with key regional players, learn from one another, and discuss regional adaptation strategies and funding priorities.

Key recommendations and actions discussed during the workshop included:

  • Reorganizing fiscal policies so that activities that enhance adaptive capacity have a monetary incentive
  • Charge for actions that damage the environment and use extra funds for restoration and adaptation measures
  • Re-evaluate the economic value of a healthy, functioning ecosystem
  • Use local land-use planning and development to increase protection of essential habitat (i.e. floodplains, wetlands) and promote low impact development
  • Collaborate with local watershed councils and land trusts
  • Partner with neighboring municipalities, industries, and other stakeholders to created integrated watershed management plans
  • Provide outreach to city planners, local authorities, and citizens
  • Revise shoreline land use regulations to deal with property rights if the Great Lakes' water levels drop as predicted by models
  • Develop water conservation and efficient use policies
  • Remove water use subsidies so consumers pay the true cost of water
  • Ratify and implement the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact
  • Attain funds from Congress to enhance regional water conservation infrastructure
  • Protect and restore wetlands through economic incentives and zoning measures
  • Evaluate the efficacy of existing wetland restoration programs to assess strengths and weaknesses
  • Develop a map to prioritize wetland acquisition and restoration efforts
  • Where feasible, remove dams to enhance wetland integrity or, on dammed rivers, adjust water regimes to respond to climate change impacts
  • Redefine the 100-year floodplain maps to consider the effects of climate change to moderate development in vulnerable areas


Michigan Sea Grant was awarded funds to organize, host, and write the workshop report. Four foundations (Mott Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust) contributed equally to the project. Having multiple foundations contribute to the workshop may have been advantageous because it elevated the importance of the meeting, particularly to grantees, and fostered a sense of ownership within contributing foundations. In general, the number and composition of participants was thought to be appropriate for the workshop; however, state government officials were underrepresented, possibly because only mandates and items of high political priority receive attention during a time of fiscal contraction, and therefore their ability to travel was limited.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The workshop report, Preparing for Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region, was released in February 2009. Participants, particularly foundations, have continued ad hoc discussions and have identified three opportunities of interest:

  • Supporting watershed level assessments on the likely impacts of climate change and ways to help prepare and enhance the resilience of the systems
  • Surveying state natural resource agencies to assess needs in terms of resources, tools, knowledge, concerns and interests
  • Researching existing state and local policies that could be enhanced to help adapt to climate change and identify any policy gaps

In 2010, the findings of the workshop and the support from many of the participants prompted the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University to propose the creation of the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA), which is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and through additional support from the universities. GLISA’s focus is on agriculture, watershed management, and natural resources-based recreation and tourism within the watersheds of Lake Huron and Lake Erie as well as the broader Great Lakes Basin; the center has an overarching mission of providing important information and resources to support climate change adaptation.

Overall the workshop was a success, generated some quality recommendations, and served as a foundational step for future conversations on responding to climate change in the Great Lakes region. Participants utilized the conference as a knowledge exchange and networking opportunity, which has served as a foundation for new projects focused on adaptation within the Great Lakes region.


Feifel, K. (2010). Preparing for Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region [Case study on a project of Michigan Sea Grant]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

Michigan Sea Grant supports research, outreach, and education to enhance the sustainable use of Great Lakes resources to benefi t the economy, the environment, and quality of life.

University of Michigan is one of the top universities of the world, a diverse public institution of higher learning, fostering excellence in research.

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