If you own a lake house, you are most likely well aware of rising water levels in Michigan, and the Great Lakes have been in the news as record high levels have caused beaches to erode and, in some cases, damaged homes and businesses. In Leland, Michigan, historic Fishtown has experienced flooding due to seiches and high-water levels. Throughout Benzie and Leelanau counties, Lake Michigan beaches have eroded to a fraction of what they were just a few years ago.
The rising water levels are due to record snowpack and rainfall over the last few years. In contrast, not long ago, we were experiencing record-low water levels. Historically, the Great Lakes go through a natural cycle of water-level changes. Therefore, waterfront homeowners must plan for both high and low water levels.
Wind, waves, and ice all play a role in erosion. However, the shoreline also contributes to how well it can resist these forces. Native vegetation helps buffer the impact of wave and wind erosion, and the composition of the soil and underlying rock contribute to how the shoreline is affected.
What can a homeowner do to protect their shoreline and property?
Adding a seawall may seem logical, but alternatives should be considered whenever possible. Seawalls can sometimes create more erosion by redirecting wave forces downward and undercutting the wall or by flanking and eroding the areas directly adjacent to the wall. Of course, a property on Lake Michigan versus an inland lake will have different conditions to consider.
Rock (rock armor or “rip-rap”) can be used as an alternative to seawalls. A rock revetment absorbs wave energy better than seawalls and reduces the chance of undercutting and flanking. They also provide better access for wildlife to and from the water than a seawall. Rock revetments are also long-lasting and can last for years. It should be noted that seawalls and revetments require approval by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership recommends the following strategies for preventing shoreline erosion.
- Site your house a minimum of 100 feet from the lake.
- Limit turf grass, especially at the lake edge. Keep as many trees, shrubs, and native plants as possible.
- Minimize impervious surfaces to help prevent stormwater from running directly into the lake. This helps minimize the washing away of sand.
- Keep the native plants in the lake or only remove a limited amount for boating access or swimming. Plants in the water along the shore help protect the shoreline by absorbing wave energy.
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