What Could Changing Great Lakes Water Levels Mean for our Coastal Communities?

Katherine Kahl, Heather Stirratt
Created: 3/13/2013 - Updated: 3/02/2020


The Great Lakes are a national and international treasure. They hold 20% of the world’s fresh surface water and meet a variety of needs for more than 45 million people in the Great Lakes region, covering parts of the United States and Canada (CDM 2010, International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012). They serve as the backbone for a $4 trillion regional U.S. economy (U.S. Department of Commerce 2011), and are the foundation of our quality of life in the Great Lakes region. Warming temperatures and more extreme precipitation patterns are acting on an ecological system that has already been dramatically changed since European settlement, including loss of over 80% of wetlands in the southern half of the region (IL, IN, OH; Mitsch and Gosselink 2007). Climate change projections suggest continued changes in the hydrology (the movement of water) of the Great Lakes region, including higher risk of more intense drought and flooding, and changes in the factors that influence Great Lakes water levels.

This case study aims to motivate and empower coastal communities to engage in climate-adapted planning and decision-making. Our goal is to provide an introduction to key resources for decision-makers, and examples of ways to think about what a rise or decline in lake levels could mean to coastal community assets. The two examples provided consider historic high and low water levels, likely future changes in water levels, and other climate-related changes that may influence decision-making. First, the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board is using lake level projection data to inform and redefine water level regulations for Lake Superior (International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012). Their adaptive management approach may be a model that can be applied locally by coastal communities, using available online data and tools, as they consider planning scenarios under extreme high and low water levels along with other climate threats. Our second example illustrates how this approach could be applied to promote climate adapted planning for Northern Pike management in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


Communities determine their planning and management priorities based on their local assets and community needs. Great Lakes coastal communities plan for essential services like transportation, energy, water and sewer, as well as access to parks, beaches, marinas and harbors. Rising summer temperatures, more intense storm events and longer periods of drought are causing communities to consider future climate impacts as they make routine planning and infrastructure investment decisions. Given that coastal communities are defined by proximity to water, and many of the important values these communities seek to protect arise from assets that are sensitive to lake level changes, the question of how changing water levels in the Great Lakes could impact these decisions has been brought to the forefront by many decision-making bodies. Our goal is to help communities make more informed and comprehensive long-term decisions by clarifying current thinking on how Great Lakes water levels are projected to change, and describing an approach for incorporating variation in future lake levels into a decision framework.

Planners and decision-makers want to know how future climate will impact their local area or the specific resources or infrastructure they manage. They need to understand and quantify the changes that they are already experiencing as well as what is vulnerable, or at risk, in the future. Climate impacts and threats include:

  • Annual average temperatures are increasing in the Great Lakes region. We experienced a 2.3°F (1.3°C) increase between 1968 and 2002. A 1.8 to 5.4°F (1-3°C) increase is projected by 2050 (U.S. Global Change Research Program 2009).
  • The duration of Great Lakes ice cover is decreasing as air and water temperatures rise. Overall there has been a 71% reduction in the extent of Great Lakes ice cover between 1973 and 2010, led by losses on Lake Superior (Wang et al. 2011).
  • Heavy precipitation events are becoming heavier. Between 1958 and 2007, the heaviest 1% of rain events increased by 31% in the Midwest resulting in more flooding, runoff, and sediment and nutrient loading impacts (U.S. Global Change Research Program 2009).

Historic Lake Levels

One of the challenges in planning for possible changes in Great Lakes water levels is that these levels are naturally variable. The historic range of variability in Great Lakes water levels can be observed in monthly, seasonal and long term fluctuations. Great Lakes water levels have been recorded using reference gauges since as early as 1800, though some early records are intermittent (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory 2012). While decadal and annual trends in Great Lakes water levels have been measured over the past 150+ years, paleo data (records older than 1,000 years derived from submerged tree stumps and ancient beach ridges; Baedke and Thompson 2000, Wilcox et al. 2007) show natural cycles of wet periods and dry periods occurring most often in six- to eight-year time periods, but they also show wet and dry periods lasting 10 to 15 years in duration. To protect coastal assets, experts suggest that the full historic extent of high and low water levels should be considered as possible when defining the potential range of variation that coastal communities could experience in the future (International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012). But how will climate change influence this historic range of variation? Scientists across the Great lakes basin and beyond are working to understand how changing climate patterns could affect the probability of future water levels to rise above and drop below historic extremes.

Future Lake Level Projections

To estimate future water levels, scientists need to describe how water enters and leaves the interconnected set of lake basins that we recognize as the Great Lakes. Future Great Lakes water level projections are calculated using three key factors based on water inputs and outputs (i.e., the water budget) (Figure 1):

  • Evaporation off the lakes and evapotranspiration from the land (evapotranspiration = evaporation from plants + evaporation from soil and other land surfaces);
  • Precipitation onto the land and lakes; and
  • Runoff from the land and rivers into the lakes.

Two additional elements factor into estimating future lake levels as well:

  • Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (i.e., Glacial Rebound): The Great Lakes basin is, in effect, tilting over time as the result of the land rebounding after regional glaciers retreated about 10,000 year ago. The southwestern end of the basin is falling relative to the center of where the past glacier existed. This makes water levels in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, appear to be rising. At the same time, water levels in the northeastern portion of the basin (e.g., Georgian Bay, Ontario) appear to be dropping. This rebound accounts for about one foot of water level change (rising or dropping) in a person’s lifetime (International Upper Great Lakes Study 2009).
  • Climate change: Annual average air and water temperatures are rising and future climate models project continued warming, which contributes to higher rates of evaporation. Projected future precipitation amounts, rates, and annual variability in timing of wetter and drier periods vary by model.

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Fig. 1. The Great Lakes water budget. Precipitation, evaporation and runoff are shown for each Great Lake using orange, red, and green arrows respectively (U.S. EPA 2012). Large blue arrows represent basin-wide evaporation and precipitation. Some groundwater flows into and out of the lakes directly, while most is assumed to be captured as runoff to streams, wetlands and other lakes.

Many of the past efforts to estimate future lake levels have used the Large Basin Runoff Model developed by Croley (1983; Croley and Hartman 1984). Commonly-cited projections that employed this runoff model indicate that, on average, future lake levels are likely to decline on the order of 0.15m (0.5 ft) up to 0.61m (2 ft.) by 2050 (e.g., Angel and Kunkel 2009, U.S. Global Change Research Program 2009, Hayhoe et al. 2010). While the concept of lake level declines is important to consider, we suggest several reasons why coastal planning should look to both the past and current research to inform updates of coastal planning. While simpler to communicate, focusing on average changes can lead us to underestimate the chances of lakes reaching extreme high or low levels, and these extremes are typically what we are concerned about. Further, focusing on averages highlights the importance of how the models that describe lake levels are structured.

More recent modeling (MacKay and Seglenicks 2012, Lofgren et al. 2011) incorporates new methods for calculating water inputs and outputs from the land-water hydrologic system (Manabe et al. 2004, Kutzbach 2005, Milly 2005) and project less drastic declines in average water levels for individual Great Lakes. If a range of climate change projection models are used as inputs to the lake level models, thus affecting the estimate of future net basin supply, newer modeling efforts produce a range of future lake level scenarios that includes both declines and increases in water levels.

Overall, because future basin-wide precipitation inputs and outputs are uncertain, future lake level projections are uncertain (Lofgren et al. 2011, Holman et al. 2012). Some sources of uncertainty can be addressed with new research: For example there is limited direct measurement of over-lake evaporation and precipitation, and there is an ongoing effort to expand the Great Lakes evaporation monitoring network which will require continued investment from agencies in the United States and Canada. With 10% to 30% of the basin ungauged (therefore lacking measurements), some uncertainty about Great Lakes basin runoff amounts exists as well. While improvements are likely, many of these uncertainties, especially those related to future precipitation levels, will not be eliminated through regional research.

Given the need to plan in spite of uncertainty, the database of historic water level records, archived by NOAA’s National Ocean Service, offers a meaningful guide and provides critical context for any water level projection (www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/now/wlevels/levels.html). Coastal community decision makers should consider that at this time, it may make more sense to invest in framing how the high and low water levels described in the historical record can impact local assets, rather than basing plans on results from the newest models. Identifying actions that protect assets under a range of future conditions is a way to “hedge our bets” in the face of this uncertainty.


Adaptation Example: A New Plan for Lake Superior Water Regulation Includes Consideration of Future Climate Conditions and Associated Water Levels on the Upper Great Lakes

Multiple interests within the Upper Great Lakes are affected by water levels and flows. The following is an example of how one regional body, the International Joint Commission (IJC), formed in 1909 by the United States and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty to prevent and resolve water disputes between the two countries, is incorporating a range of future lake level scenarios into planning. The International Upper Great Lakes Study (Study; 2012), was commissioned by the IJC in 2007. It was a robust effort that took place over five years and incorporated input from over 200 scientists, engineers, planners, and technical experts from the United States and Canada to address the challenge of: “how to manage fluctuating lake levels, in the face of uncertainty over future water supplies to the basin, while seeking to balance the needs of those interests served by the system.” While this example considers climate and water level scenarios for the upper Great Lakes and addresses the complex challenge of determining a new water regulation strategy for Lake Superior, aspects of this approach can be used to inform local community climate adaptation planning as well. One case of how to apply this framework at local level will be given in a second example.

A major task of the IJC Study was to improve understanding of hydroclimatic conditions in the upper Great Lakes system, focusing on the possible impacts of climate variability and climate change on future water levels. Specifically, the Study examined: What is expected to happen with upper Great Lakes water levels in the future; the forces causing water level changes; and what water level changes will mean to shoreline communities and industries, and to the ecosystems that are critically integral to the vitality of the Great Lakes basin and make it ecologically unique.

The Study team evaluated the ecological, economic, and social concerns of a wide range of interest groups that depend on the lakes including domestic, municipal, and industrial water uses; commercial navigation; hydroelectric generation; ecosystems and natural resource conservation; coastal zone management; and recreational boating and tourism (Figure 2). Multi-sector concerns helped to inform the Study team’s decision-making approach toward updating Lake Superior water regulation strategies. Key among their concerns were the risks and uncertainties that a changing climate is projected to have on future Great Lakes water levels. The Study used a variety of data sources and models including historical water levels, statistical models, geological records going back nearly 5,000 years, and global and regional future climate projection models.

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Fig. 2. Each upper Great Lakes interest TWG group determined their vulnerabilities to Great Lakes water level fluctuations; Table 3-1 in International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012.

Among the Study’s conclusions, it found that lake evaporation is increasing and likely will increase for the foreseeable future, due to the lack of ice cover, increasing surface water temperatures, and wind speeds. Analysis indicates that in the Lake Michigan-Huron basin, this increased evaporation is being largely offset by increases in local precipitation. In the Lake Superior basin, however, increasing evaporation over the past 60 years has not been compensated for by increased precipitation. As a result, Lake Superior basin water supplies have been declining. Unless changes in the precipitation regime occur, which is possible, average water supply in Lake Superior will continue to decline, despite the possibility of higher supplies at times. The uneven impacts of changing climate patterns from basin to basin pose a critical challenge to Lake Superior water regulation decision makers as they try to balance the economic, cultural and ecological needs and assets of upper and lower Great Lakes coastal communities. For example, important wetlands in Georgina Bay, Ontario could be lost unless some form of water level restoration is achieved for that area. Conversely, much of Lake Michigan shoreline and the western and southern shorelines of Lake Huron may experience negative shoreline effects of higher water levels, should some proposed restoration structures or multi-lake regulation be enacted.

What will happen in the future is uncertain: if the precipitation remains similar or we see less precipitation, water supply conditions in Lake Superior are likely to continue to decline, on average. If at some point total precipitation shows strong increases, the lake would be expected to have higher supplies at times, though increasing temperatures will increase evaporation. Overall, the balance of evidence suggested that lake levels are likely to continue to fluctuate, but still remain within the relatively narrow historical range. While lower levels are likely, the possibility of higher levels at times cannot be dismissed and both possibilities should be considered in future planning.

The Study considered the important role that adaptive management can play to help multi-sector interests better anticipate and respond to extreme high or low water levels in the future. Adaptive management provides a structured approach for improving actions through long-term monitoring, modeling, and assessment. It allows decisions to be adjusted and revised as new information becomes available or as conditions change. Specifically, the Study adopted a decision-scaling approach (Brown et al. 2011) to define climate risk. The approach began with stakeholders – understanding what climate change factors different stakeholder interest groups (represented by six Technical Working Groups “TWG”) thought posed the most risk to their businesses, communities, or organizations (Figure 2). They then assessed whether their highest risk scenarios were plausible based on the available climate science. This approach differs from more traditional approaches that first examine global climate models to define system vulnerabilities.

Each TWG went through a process to define and manage climate risk to their specific areas of interest by following the following series of steps. Parenthetical questions were adapted from the Study.

  1. Define system vulnerabilities for each interest group. (How do residential land owners, commercial interests, marinas, shipping, natural resources, etc. perceive lake level rise and drop as a vulnerability to their interests?) (Figure 2; Tables 3-1 and Figure 9-4 in IUGLS 2012)
  2. Develop risk scenarios. (What are the highest-risk future scenarios under high/low water levels?)
  3. Define plausibility of risks. (How plausible are high-risk scenarios? See Figure 9-5 in IUGLS 2012)
  4. Develop Lake Superior regulation strategies to address future risks. (Will changing the existing regulation or plan help my interest group? How?)
  5. Evaluate new water level control structures. (Would creation of additional infrastructure help?)
  6. Identify other adaptive means of addressing risk that are, or could be used, through an institutional analysis. (What other factors are not being considered? Institutional efficiencies?)
  7. Identify long-term monitoring and modeling needs that support an adaptive management strategy for understanding future risk, minimizing uncertainties, and adjusting management actions as new information and knowledge are incorporated and/or as conditions change. (What monitoring and modeling are needed to support adaptive management for my interest?)

After understanding how climate is expected to change in the Great Lakes basin and the potential impacts those changes could have on lake levels, three “coping zones” were determined by each TWG to achieve the first step in the adaptive management process: define system vulnerabilities. The coping zones categorized the level of risk, or vulnerability, to water level fluctuations each interest group might experience and included confounding factors like glacial isostatic adjustment, wind/waves/storm surges, and precipitation patterns:

  • Zone A: a range of water level conditions that the interest group would find tolerable
  • Zone B: a range of water level conditions that would have unfavorable though not irreversible impacts on the interest
  • Zone C: a range of water level conditions that would have severe, long-lasting or permanent adverse impacts on the interest.

These coping zones, and what it would take each interest group to push their interest from one zone to another, were thoroughly examined. The transitions between zones were not only defined by a change in water level, but also in the duration, frequency, and rate of water level change. They assessed the ability to recover if the water levels returned to more acceptable conditions.

The second and third planning steps (Developing Risk Scenarios and Defining Plausibility of Risks, respectively), allowed interest groups to assess a series future net basin supply (water supply) scenarios that were developed using a variety of techniques under different climate projection models. The Study initiated several complex hydroclimatic analyses to ultimately allow interest groups to evaluate the plausibility of positive or negative impacts on their interest under different future water supply and climate scenarios, thus allowing them to evaluate their preference for a given candidate water regulation plan.

The fourth planning step evaluated candidate Lake Superior water regulation plans by testing the limits of each plan under a series of extreme water supply conditions. They concluded that “none of the [candidate] regulation plans reviewed could influence the water levels of Lake Michigan-Huron by more than a few centimeters without exacerbating the historical extreme lake level conditions on Lake Superior”. Thus, any plan will have limited ability to moderate lake levels, or minimize risk, most notably extremes in the downstream lakes. The fifth step explored whether adding additional restoration-type structures or additional multi-lake regulation would better address future water level conditions than the current plan. The Study concluded that new structures for restoration would generate a mix of positive and negative impacts for multiple sectors and locations. Multi-lake regulation can help mitigate but can’t fully eliminate risk of water level extremes outside the historical range.

The Study concluded, in steps 6 and 7, that “institutional infrastructure” varies considerably from one jurisdiction to the next (Donahue 2011). Policy and regulatory frameworks developed at the federal, state and provincial levels don’t always coincide with the site-specific application of adaptive risk management measures that take place at the local government level. They concluded that more focus on long-term implications of climate change-induced impacts and the associated need for new adaptive risk management measures are needed. The Study also concluded that coastal zone managers and decision makers need more coordinated hydroclimatic data and information to encourage climate adaptation action and that that action will necessitate a commitment to monitoring and new modeling in response to observed changes to regularly evaluate strategies.

Ultimately, after basin-wide public input opportunities, the Study Board recommended a new regulation plan for Lake Superior that they felt confident would perform well regardless of future water supplies and in an equitable manner for all interest groups.

Toward Climate-Adapted Planning That Considers Future Lake Levels: Tools and an Example

While the seven steps above were designed by a team of experts to inform international policy, many aspects of this process can help inform short- and long-term planning guidelines by providing an example of how to frame risks to local assets. In addition to this framework, a number of tools and resources (described below) are being developed within the Great Lakes basin and beyond that can be useful to regional and community assessments. First we review the tools, and then illustrate an example of applying the IJC framework to Northern Pike management in Green Bay, Wisconsin using these tools.

We Have Tools to Assess Coastal Community Vulnerabilities to Climate Change

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory’s Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard provides a way to visualize and examine historic lake levels and future projection comparisons at a variety of user-designated time scales. Options are available for customizing output graphs in addition to time scale.

The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Wizard allows users to explore future climate scenarios (change in temperature and precipitation under different future carbon emissions) for specific regions. This information can be used to inform a community’s planning goals, resource management, and investment decisions.

The Association of State Floodplain Managers new Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide provides resources for mapping, analyzing, reporting, and visualizing specific coastal hazards. State and local officials engaged in coastal management, planning, and development can examine how trends in short-and long-term climate conditions affect hazards and their impacts on land, water, and resources and explore how different management types respond to changing conditions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Services Center produces a wide variety of geospatial data housed on Digital Coast. NOAA produces tools and trainings to help planners and practitioners maximize the data. In order to continually improve the site, NOAA facilitates the Digital Coast Partnership made up of six national partners who help steer data and content needs and identify primary barriers communities are experiencing.

The Collaboratory for Adaptation to Climate Change is an interactive site designed to connect planners, practitioners and decision-makers through providing links to resources, tools, and case studies. Users can set up public or private groups to discuss issues, develop consensus around planning actions, share documents, or request information. The Collaboratory is being developed by the University of Notre Dame with The Nature Conservancy.

Applying the Adaptation Management Planning Process to Northern Pike Management in Green Bay, Wisconsin

How do we design conservation strategies that consider lake level fluctuations as we work to provide aquatic species the access that they need to a larger variety of areas in which to seek refuge during times of higher and lower water levels? One fish species that is receiving considerable attention by The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is the Northern Pike (Esox lucius). Adapting pike management is a smart investment for a number of reasons:

  • Helping pike helps other wildlife. Protecting shallow coastal wetlands that pike migrate toward in the spring protects habitat that many other species of fish, crayfish, and mussels use.
  • Pike are a top predator in Green Bay. They feed on other fish and help keep their populations in balance, thus helping to maintain the aquatic food web.
  • Pike are a big contributor to Green Bay’s multi-million-dollar sport fishing industry. They contribute to the quality of life for residents and the recreational tourism industry for the region.
  • What’s good for pike is good for people. Reducing pike migration barriers by replacing road stream crossings/culverts that currently don’t allow fish passage, and restoring natural hydrologic flows in the Green Bay watershed, also provides those areas with greater capacity to handle intense rains and floods, thus reducing regional maintenance costs.

Declines in pike populations in Green Bay are largely attributed to loss of wetland spawning habitat. The Nature Conservancy has launched a project to identify and remove barriers to fish migration that will help pike and other aquatic species have access to more coastal wetlands. Providing better aquatic connectivity encourages greater diversity and resilient wildlife populations as Lake Michigan water levels fluctuate. Ensuring sufficient and viable stream flow under a range of future lake level scenarios for the pike life cycle will be necessary to conserve pike and other species. While natural water level fluctuations benefit pike and coastal ecosystems in general, extreme water level changes over too long a duration or that occur too frequently could be detrimental to pike and coastal wetlands. Incorporating lake level projections into pike management helps prioritize and ensure that conservation and restoration investments are made in the highest-impact locations.

If Lake Michigan water levels in Green Bay rise above historic thresholds, coastal wetland habitat could be lost in cases where land beyond the current coastline is not available to transition into new wetland habitat. For example, steep coast lines or developed lands often do not allow wetland formation. If lake levels drop, existing coastal wetlands could warm and dry up, also potentially reducing valuable wetland habitat. Additional research efforts are underway to understand 1) the degree to which pike require access to natal streams for spawning, and 2) which water corridors serve as the primary migration corridors for pike (http://blog.nature.org/2012/07/the-answer-in-a-fishs-ear/).

This case study applies the International Upper Great Lakes Study’s seven adaptation management planning steps to Green Bay pike management efforts (Table 1) as an example of how managers could think about lake water level changes as a part of their management decision-making framework.

The first step determines the interest groups who are invested in pike viability and the driving threats that climate and changing water level scenarios pose for each group. The second step requires managers to consider the different risk scenarios associated with high and low lake level extremes for each interest. Scenarios that that could negatively affect pike at specific life stages should be identified. For example, as lake levels recede, concerns include the potential for the first upstream former barriers becoming barriers again and the potential for rising water temperatures in shallower nursery areas where the young pike develop during their first summer.

A measure of how plausible each interest group’s risk scenario might be under different water level and climate scenarios could help prioritize specific management actions. The Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard provides the range of historic water levels for Lake Michigan and Climate Wizard can help managers explore how the regional climate has changed, and is projected to change over the next 50-100 years. For example, the Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard shows that between 1869 and 2012, the Lake Michigan annual average water level variability has ranged between a low of 175.68m (1964) and a high of 177.39m (1886). Over the past 30 years, the range has been between 175.89m (2003) and 177.29m (1986). Climate Wizard shows us that overland temperature is projected to increase in northern Wisconsin by about 3-4° by the 2050’s and by about 6° by the 2080’s (High A2 emissions scenario, ensemble average of all GCMs). Precipitation projections are less certain, but overall increasing heavy precipitation events are expected with longer dry periods between heavy precipitation events. Visualization applications from the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Planning Guide and Digital Coast may help managers further cement their understanding of the changing hydrologic impacts to natural coastal systems and coastal communities.

Using knowledge gained from steps 1-3, managers can gain insight to one or more candidate pike management plans that are adaptable to a range of future hydrologic and climate changes and that will meet the needs of multiple interests so that coordinated conservation and restoration, recreation, and infrastructure development efforts are complementary.

Additional considerations for water control infrastructure changes were included by the IJC Study, and could be a consideration for pike as well in the form of, for example, pump station installations to aid water level requirements for migration/spawning at very high or low water level periods. Effort required, financial cost, and long-term viability of management actions are major considerations.

Exploration of institutional collaboration (i.e., federal, state and local government and organizations) for reaching region-wide pike management objectives should be explored. For example, look for opportunities to better connect ecologists, engineers and planners who should coordinate on aquatic connectivity issues.

Additional research questions that could inform climate-adapted management for pike should be explored. Long-term monitoring and modeling needs that support an adaptive management strategy for understanding future risk, minimizing uncertainties, and adjusting management actions as new information and knowledge are incorporated and/or as conditions change should be incorporated as well. See Table 1 as a complement to these steps for an example of how one might think through the adaptive management planning process for pike in Green Bay.

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Outcomes and Conclusions

Take Home Message for Great Lakes Coastal Communities

The goal of this case study is to empower coastal community planners and climate-adapted decision makers by providing clarification in how to think about lake level changes in future planning scenarios. Translating how the International Upper Great Lakes Study used hydrological data and historic and projected lake level data to inform decision making for Lake Superior water regulations is a large-scale application that catalyzed much of the lake level and hydrologic research that has taken place in the Great Lakes basin over the past few years. Great Lakes coastal communities can benefit from the continually evolving resources coming out of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and other regional institutions and agencies. Moving forward, the sharing of application examples are necessary, for managers and decision-makers who routinely ask for and can use them to better understand risks and benefits of different climate-adapted management techniques.

Places to share these examples include the Climate Adaptation Collaboratory, the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), and the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide. These sites can help multi-sector decision makers learn more, tell their stories, and connect with others. It is the hope of the authors that Great Lakes coastal communities can use the information and resources highlighted in this case study to inform or prompt conversation about local decisions that will safeguard coastal community assets, maintain quality of life assets, and produce informed community investments.


Case study adapted for CAKE and edited by CAKE Content Editor.

Project File (s)

Great Lakes Water Level Changes: Addressing Risks and Impacts on Coastal Assets


Kahl, K. & Stirratt, H. (2012). What Could Changing Great Lakes Water Levels Mean for our Coastal Communities? [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Great Lakes]. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/what-could-changing-great-lakes-water-levels… (Last updated November 2012)


Project Contact(s)

Email: kkahl@tnc.org
Position: Climate Change Ecologist

The Great Lakes Project is focused on the protection, restoration and maintenance of the region’s most critical natural systems while safeguarding the lakes from their most significant threats, such as aquatic invasive species.

The Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Project has identified six priority areas to build strategic success:


Scale of Project
Sector Addressed
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Climate Type