Great Lakes Water Levels Informational Webinar – March 18th, 2020

By Adam Bechle, Coastal Engineering Outreach Specialist, Wisconsin Sea Grant 

An informational webinar on Great Lakes water levels was hosted by Wisconsin Sea Grant on the evening of March 18th. This webinar replaced three face-to-face panels that were scheduled to be held that week in Manitowoc, Somers and Mequon but were canceled due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns. This webinar featured speakers from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the National Weather Service, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Below you can find a recording of the meeting, a brief summary of the meeting, and links to the handouts from the meeting.

Meeting Recording
link at:
(see video description for shortcut links to each presentation)


Meeting Summary

Over 100 people signed on to view the webinar on Great Lakes Water Levels. Both Jason Peters, Village/Town Adminstrator for Somers, WI and Congressman Bryan Steil of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District welcomed attendees to the webinar before the speakers began the program.

Great Lakes Water Levels
Dee Apps, Krystle Walker – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -Detroit District
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Handout: Living on the Coast

Dee Apps of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – Detroit District led the meeting off with a description of Great Lakes hydrology and the record precipitation that has driven water level to new records in the past year. Lake Michigan is over a foot higher now in March 2020 than it was a year ago. Dee also discussed the forecast of water level conditions over the next six-months which indicate that Lake Michigan is likely to remain at or near record water levels throughout the extent of the forecast. As Lake Michigan continues is seasonal rise through the summer, the forecast suggests an 8 inch rise is likely from now (March 2020) through July, though the actual rise may be more or less depending on the weather conditions we experience. Even under hypothetical conditions favorable for a big water level decline, water levels will remain above average for at least the next year.

Krystle Walker of USACE-Detroit District Emergency Management discussed the types of Emergency Assistance available to Great Lakes communities dealing with water level issues.


Lake Michigan Water Level Outlook
Sarah Marquardt, National Weather Service in Milwaukee/Sullivan
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Sarah Marquardt of the National Weather Service Milwaukee/Sullivan Office covered water levels from a meteorological perspective, explaining the record-setting precipitation weather patterns that have been behind our high water levels. Sarah also provided the most updated temperature and precipitation outlooks for the region which suggest a above average precipitation in the Great Lakes region for spring and early summer. There was also a discussion of the damaging January 10-11th coastal storm which brought a period of 50 mph winds and 10-15 foot waves to Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shore. Sarah closed out her presentation with a summary of the lakeshore flooding warnings that NWS is issuing on days when strong winds bring large waves and storm surge onshore.


Coastal Hazards, Adaptation Options, and Educational Resources
Adam Bechle, Coastal Engineering Outreach Specialist, Wisconsin Sea Grant
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Handout: Resources for Great Lakes Coastal Property Owners

Adam Bechle of Wisconsin Sea Grant discussed the processes that lead to coastal erosion which include water levels and storm waves but also surface water, groundwater, and human changes to the coast. Adam then described a “top-down” approach to protecting coastal properties that takes into account all of these processes that can affect coastal erosion. Starting at the top of a bluff or bank, proper management of land use, water, and vegetation can help slow erosion of the coast. Working down the bluff, water and vegetation management are still important and stabilization of the slope may be necessary if bluff collapse is of concern. At the water line, shore protection should be carefully considered due to cost and potential impacts to neighboring properties and used only if absolutely necessary to protect a property. By implementing a “top-down” approach, a property owner can sometimes avoid some of the more costly approaches to protecting coastal investments.

Adam finished his presentation by reviewing a list of resources about coastal processes and the potential options to help protect property (handout link above).


Great Lakes Erosion Control Authorization Process
Sarah Szabo & Theresa Szabelski, Wisconsin  Department of Natural Resources
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Handout: Placing erosion control structures on Wisconsin’s Great Lakes

Sarah Szabo and Theresa Szabelski of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources covered the DNR’s permitting process for placing erosion control structures on Wisconsin’s Great Lakes coast. This included a demonstration of using the DNR’s Great Lakes Emergency Erosion Control Self Certification form. The DNR’s website and handout (above) have links to the form and contact information for your permitting questions.


Question and Answer Session
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The final 25 minutes of the webinar was full of questions from the audience.