New strategies protect coastal towns from rising waters

Share or view as webpage  |  Update preferences

An aerial image of the St. Joseph shoreline, credit MDOT

March 28, 2019

Coastal towns prepare for rising waters

Life on the coast 

Sparkling waters and natural beauty draw people to live and play on America’s coasts; data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that more than 40% of the nation’s population lives in a coastal county.

These communities can be vulnerable to flooding and erosion. Proactive efforts can protect them from changing water levels, high winds and wave action that can wreak havoc on homes and businesses built too close to shore. The Michigan Coastal Program is helping protect Great Lakes coastal communities with a new resilience initiative. 

The Lake Michigan beach at St. Joseph with a building setback line

Taking action

A place making strides in shoreline protection is the City of St. Joseph, perched on the Lake Michigan shore.

In 2012, the City established a coastal setback in a vulnerable area north of its harbor. This was the first of its kind in Michigan and prevents new buildings from being placed in areas likely to flood or be destabilized by erosion. It also prevents the construction of structures like seawalls, which can damage the natural, protective function of beaches. This type of ordinance is a valuable tool that can help prepare communities for major storm events. 

The Great Lakes shoreline is naturally dynamic and changing, so continued care is needed to ensure the setback provides enough protection for homes, roads and businesses.

The Coastal Program awarded the City of St. Joseph a $20,000 matching grant in 2017 to update the engineering study used to create the original setback with new survey data, updated water level and wave calculations and a review of site conditions. The study determined that the setback still provides enough protection for the community and recommended that officials conduct homeowner outreach to share safety tips.

The Coastal Program is now helping other Great Lakes communities adopt similar ordinances.  

Growing community resiliency 

Through its resiliency initiative, the Coastal Program set goals to increase understanding of coastal hazard risks and to hold training events to assist communities in proactive planning.  

A resiliency team is creating a web portal to show how the coast has historically changed and will provide planning and zoning best practices.

Learn more about Michigan’s Coastal Program online or by contacting Program Manager Ronda Wuycheck.

Michigan’s Coastal Management Program works in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which supports a network of state-federal partnerships protecting America’s coasts.

DNR Logo 24 bit PNG

The Office of the Great Lakes works in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.