Graham Sustainability Institute

Water Level Variability and Coastal Bluff Erosion in Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin

Project Image

Project Team

David Hart (PI), Gene Clark, Adam Mednick, Julia Noordyk, Deidre Peroff – Wisconsin Sea Grant
John Janssen, Jenny Kehl – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Ben Kranner, Jim LaGro, Andrew Mangham, David Mickelson, Brian Ohm, Chin Wu – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bert Stitt, Linda Stitt – Stitt and Associates

Project Summary

The Great Lakes Water Levels Integrated Assessment aimed to help decision makers address the challenges and opportunities posed by Great lakes water level variability.
The Lake Michigan coast from Shorewood to Port Washington in southeastern Wisconsin is characterized by coastal bluffs ranging from 70 to 140 feet in height. Lake Michigan water levels were below the long-term average from 1999 to 2013, but began to rise in March 2014. It is anticipated that the current higher water levels above long-term averages in Lake Michigan coming after the extended period of low levels could have a significant impact on the stability of coastal bluffs.
Parallel with the change in Lake Michigan shore caused by rising water levels, the enabling legislation for shoreland zoning in Wisconsin was significantly changed in July 2015. Shoreland zoning, enabled by state law and implemented by local governments, is a primary management tool for addressing development along both inland and Great Lakes waters in Wisconsin. The combination of these two events has precipitated a need to synthesize existing bluff erosion research and engage local stakeholders and broader partners to explore policy options and decision tools for increasing resilience to coastal bluff erosion in the face of possible increases in the variability of water levels. 
This interdisciplinary research team conducted stakeholder interviews and community workshops in order to improve understanding of how changing water levels affect coastal bluff erosion and to analyze educational or decision support tools for adaptive policies and actions to address these challenges. They worked with a wide range of partners and stakeholders including local communities, county and state government, and non-profit organizations.


'“We’re not coming in as experts:” Homeowners facing severe bluff erosion meet to drum up solutions' news video coverage of stakeholder meetings in Ozaukee County (June 15, 2016)
Project webpage on Wisconsin SeaGrant website
This project received a $50,000 Integrated Assessment Grant in 2015.