$50,000 Grant to Asses, in an Integrated Manner, Lake Michigan Bluff Stability

There’s a Chinese folktale that includes an anthropomorphized wall claiming invincibility as he stares down the power of the wind only to be later felled by a small mouse nibbling at his base. Much like that wall, the sweeping heights of Lake Michigan’s coastal bluffs can seem invincible. Yet we all know the immutable power of water to wear on soil and even solid coastal structures, compromising stability.

Wisconsin Sea Grant is heading a new $50,000 grant from the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan that’s looking at the variability of Great Lakes water levels and how those levels affect the “nibbling” of bluff bases.

A team of investigators representing the disciplines of coastal engineering, geology, urban and regional planning, law, policy studies, ecology, landscape architecture and social science is adding to work completed in an earlier planning grant. The new project will engage local stakeholders and broader partners to explore policy options and decision tools for increasing resilience to coastal erosion.

“The integrated assessment comes at an opportune time,” said David Hart, assistant director for extension. “Besides a rapid increase in Lake Michigan water levels from record lows in January 2013, the Wisconsin Legislature changed the enabling legislation for shoreland zoning in July 2015.”

Shoreland zoning is one of the primary management tools for addressing development along both inland and Great Lakes waters in Wisconsin.

New National Marine Sanctuary Much Closer to a Berth in Wisconsin

The nation’s newest NOAA national marine sanctuary is moving closer to designation of a site in Lake Michigan offshore from Manitowoc, Sheboygan or Ozaukee counties. The proposed 875 mile sanctuary has met preliminary national significance criteria and management considerations.

Three scoping meetings were held in November and a public comment period ended in January. NOAA will use feedback from these sources to help direct the shaping of the sanctuary and will continue to reach out to groups not yet included in the process.

The timeframe has not been set, but Titus Seilheimer, Sea Grant fisheries specialist, says, “This will not be a fast process, but the sanctuary will probably start taking shape this year. I think that realistically it could actually exist in 2017 or 2018.”

If successful, Wisconsin would host one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries and only the second one in fresh water.

The Wisconsin site has been selected, in large measure, based on the success of shipwreck explorations in state waters of Lake Michigan. Since 1998, Sea Grant has supported maritime explorations through grant funding in collaboration with the Wisconsin Historical Society’s maritime archeology program. There are 59 Wisconsin shipwrecks listed on the National Register of Historic Places, far more than any other state. Of that number, a proposed 15 would be within the designated sanctuary boundaries. Another 24 known wrecks are in the proposed sanctuary but are not, at this point, on the register.

“Wisconsin has a rich maritime heritage and an equally rich legacy of preserving that heritage,” said Jim Hurley, Sea Grant’s director. “We are thrilled the national panel looking at siting the newest sanctuary has chosen the Great Lakes to move forward. It means continued historic preservation, along with tourism for an important area of the state and highlights an important ecosystem.”

In addition, work is underway to initiate the nomination of a Lake Superior location for a sanctuary that is likely to include Chequamegon Bay and possibly extend north to include the waters surrounding the Apostle Islands. Interested citizens and resource agencies held an initial public comment presentation in December, and meetings will continue as organizers answer questions and gather community support.

For more information about the proposed Lake Michigan sanctuary, see sanctuaries.noaa.gov/wisconsin.

For more information about the proposed Lake Superior sanctuary, see lakesuperiorsanctuary.org.

New Grant to Provide a First-Ever Examination of Beach Redesign Effectiveness

Adam Mednick, a post-doctoral fellow at Sea Grant, recently secured a $16,985 grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan to evaluate the effectiveness of beach redesign and cleanup on six beaches that have been addressed in the last 10 years with the latest methods to ensure a safe experience for Wisconsin families and tourists.

Strategies have included traditional infrastructure improvements such as re-engineering stormwater systems, green infrastructure like rain gardens, beach grooming and natural or seminatural beach restoration.

Not only have there been a number of approaches used to meet the beach-health challenges, there have been a number of funding sources investing in the projects—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the Fund for Lake Michigan and local taxpayers.

But, just what have been the results of this work? That’s never been fully explored. Mednick’s study will be the first of its kind to provide quantitative estimates of the impact that such efforts have, or could have, on water quality—controlling for environmental conditions that otherwise mask their outcomes.

Using the wealth of historical data on E. coli and contributing environmental conditions at beaches all along the Lake Michigan coast, together with the advanced data-processing and analytical capabilities of the Environmental Data Discovery and Transformation and “Virtual Beach” systems, he will estimate the impact of completed redesign/remediation projects at three “restored” beaches together with the potential impacts of planned projects at three “reference” beaches.

“This is an exciting project because it takes recent advances in Great Lakes monitoring and ‘big data’ and repurposes them for a very tangible use—to evaluate the effectiveness of monetary investments being made to clean up Lake Michigan beaches,” Mednick said. “This will hopefully help government agencies and private foundations better target future investments to ensure that beaches all across the Great Lakes are healthy and safe for families looking to enjoy a day at the beach.”

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents