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Erosion Control and Great Lakes Water Levels

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Erosion control is a constant battle against the elements, especially if you live near a large body of water, such as one of the Great Lakes. It might seem impossible to protect your shoreline from such vast quantities of water, however, it can be done with proper erosion control techniques.

The Great Lakes Freshwater System

The Great Lakes Freshwater System

The Great Lakes stretch across the US and Canada, and they contain around 21% of the world’s freshwater. It’s the largest freshwater system in the world by area and the second-largest by water volume. All five lakes can be found near the US-Canada border, but only one is entirely located within the United States — Lake Michigan.

The Great Lakes cover nearly 100,000 square miles of the continent. If you live or work near a Great Lake, you’re probably located in the Great Lakes Megalopolis — all the metropolitan areas found in the Great Lakes Region.

The Great Lakes are found in eight American states and one Canadian province:

  • Michigan

  • Wisconsin

  • Minnesota

  • Illinois

  • Indiana

  • Ohio

  • Pennsylvania

  • New York

  • Ontario

Are the Great Lakes Water Levels Rising?

The Great Lakes water levels were falling, with Lake Michigan-Huron hitting an all-time low in 2013. However, since 2015 there has been a significant rise in the water levels of the Great Lakes. For example, Lake Michigan-Huron is currently at a record high.

In terms of water levels, sudden and extreme changes and lots of fluctuation cause many problems, including more intense shoreline erosion.

What Effects Do Higher Great Lakes Water Levels Have on Humans?

With increasing water levels, flooding is now a significant concern for people living on the Great Lakes coastline. The Great Lakes’ shorelines cover 10,500 miles (nearly 17,000 km) and affect roughly 30 million people.

Increased water levels can affect industry and agriculture, as well as force families out of their homes.

The Great Lakes Shoreline

The coastline of the Great Lakes freshwater system is subject to active erosion. With some high-risk areas losing 17 feet of shoreline every year, erosion along the Great Lakes is a problem.

If your home or business is on an eroding shoreline, wind, water, and weather can make life very difficult. However, there are many techniques and products available to help you protect your property from shoreline erosion.

What Is Shoreline Erosion?

Erosion is the geological process in which earthen materials are worn away and transported by natural forces such as wind or water. The energy created by the water movement wears away rock surfaces and can even carry soil or soft materials away with it.

Erosion and the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes have often been referred to as ‘inland seas’ because their geological habits are similar to that of the ocean, such as:

  • Rolling waves

  • Sustained winds

  • Strong currents

  • Great depths

  • Distant horizons

With strong and sustained winds and wave action, the Great Lakes are exceptionally well-equipped to erode structures and shorelines.

How Lakes Contribute to Erosion

Lakes, especially those with a large water volume, act as reservoirs in the hydrological cycle. On a hot day, water from the lake evaporates to become water vapor. This is then carried into the atmosphere to eventually fall back to earth as precipitation.

Therefore, we can look at lakes as sources of future precipitation, which will cause storms, heavy rain, wind, and increased run-off. All of these things contribute to the erosion of your property and shorelines.

The Great Lakes also cool the surrounding air in summer, allowing for more water vapor to condense back into liquid, causing summer rain.

The Great Lakes have a wide-reaching effect on the water cycle. A heavy rainstorm will swell lakes and rivers and give bodies of water much more power to erode and damage shorelines and structures. One storm could cause severe flooding, or even break a dam, leading to extensive erosion and water damage.

Lake-Effect Snow

As the Great Lakes don’t usually have ice in them, they create something called lake-effect snow. It starts with the lake’s water (which is slightly warmer than the air in winter), evaporating into the atmosphere, and later falling as snow.

The water vapor from the lake will condense back into liquid precipitation when it drifts over land, which is much colder. Thus, people living near the Great Lakes see localized snowfall.

Why Is Erosion a Bad Thing?

Over time, erosion can be responsible for significant structural and other damage, including:

  • Loss of land

  • Habitat destruction

  • Flooding

  • Damage to buildings or structures

  • Damage to vehicles

  • Infrastructure damage

  • Loss of earnings

Why Do I Need Erosion Control?

Left unchecked, shoreline erosion can destroy swathes of land, leave structures unstable or broken, and cause thousands of dollars of damage. Erosion can even displace families from homes and companies from business locations. It can threaten wildlife habitats, including breeding grounds, and contribute to the endangerment or extinction of species.

Agriculture and industry will also suffer due to loss of land or an inability to plant crops at the right time of year.

When erosion breaks down dams or other flood prevention structures, high levels of flooding can occur.

If you own property on a shoreline, you will probably need to control erosion. It may seem expensive or tiresome, but in the long-run, managing shoreline erosion is far cheaper than repairing the damage it causes.

Taking proper precautions may also be a condition of any insurance policies or tenancy agreements you have, and failing to meet these can be expensive.

What Erosion Control Techniques Can I Use?


The vegetated concrete mats known as Flexamat are excellent at preventing several kinds of erosion, especially shoreline erosion.

Flexamat comes in several varieties and uses recyclable materials wherever possible. You can even select a custom core to suit your site better. The mats work by preventing soil erosion due to the protective coating and using vegetation to soak up excess water.

A Living Shoreline

Developing a wall of vegetation is an excellent choice for nature reserves and conservationists, but it works well in all kinds of situations. Types of living shoreline include:

  • Breakwaters: much like a wall, a breakwater is a structure that absorbs the force of the waves, offsetting their ability to erode your coastline.

  • Fringe marshes: an expansion of existing habitat, fringe marshes help slow down water and prevent it from reaching your property.

  • Sandbars: sand is excellent for soaking up water. A sandbar will take the erosion for you, so your structure or shoreline doesn’t have to. It will also take months, or even years, for the river or lake to cut through a well-made sandbar.

  • Groins: a groin is similar to a breakwater but much smaller. They are designed to trap sand and other damaging sediments.

  • Flexamat: Concrete mat that incorporates vegetation growth along the shoreline.


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