Erosion, flooding and high water levels are some of the most concerning issues across the Great Lakes region, according to a recent survey.
But communities lack the funding, knowledgeable staff and support from government agencies to face these issues.
Water levels in the Great Lakes basin change naturally with recurring high and low water levels.
Recently water levels reached record highs, and the time between record highs and lows is shrinking, said Brian Saunderson, the co-chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Mayors Advisory Council on Coastal Resilience.
These high water levels paired with severe storms and wave action are the cause of more erosion and flooding along the coasts, said Saunderson, who is also the mayor of Collingwood, Ontario.
“Cities are on the frontlines of addressing these issues,” he said. “And we’re feeling the impacts, and we need help dealing with these impacts and sharing the cost.”
Almost 300 coastal community leaders across the five Great Lakes and various connecting channels responded to the Coastal Resilience Needs Assessment Survey this spring.
The survey found that though 95% of communities were highly or moderately concerned about erosion and flooding, and almost all reported consistent or increasing public support, barriers like lack of technical expertise, staff numbers and funding are stopping them from solving these problems.
Less than one-third of the survey replies rated their staff as highly knowledgeable and only 11% indicated a high level of available employee hours.
Respondents were also asked to gauge their community’s financial needs regarding erosion and flooding over the next five years. They reported about $2 billion is needed to support the Great Lakes shorelines.
The price tag and knowledge gap are both part of the reason the federal, state and provincial governments need to get involved and listen to the council’s guidance, said Shaun Collier, the mayor of Ajax, Ontario, and a member of the advisory council.
“We as municipalities just don’t have the funding to address the literally billions of dollars that are going to be needed to address climate change and erosion,” he said.
The $2 billion reported on the survey does not represent every community on the Great Lakes’ shores, so it is an underrepresentation of the actual need, said Alex Timmons, a research engineer at the University of Illinois Applied Research Institute.
The university and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Mayors Advisory Council on Coastal Resilience ran the survey.
The council was created in January 2021 to research and advise actions related to Great Lakes’ coastal resilience issues in the U.S. and Canada.
Based on the survey results the council created a list of what is needed for coastal communities in the region to start addressing erosion and flooding.
The list includes coordinated planning and solutions across the shoreline; education for communities and property owners; national and international engagement; more tools and complete data; and more supportive and accessible funding.
Going forward, the council plans to draft recommendations based on the survey responses for a final report to be released in early 2022 and advocate for coastal resilience funding in the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament.
“On a national scale coastal issues, resources and funding frequently revolve around marine coasts,” Collier said. “While these issues are certainly no less important, coastal issues around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin need to be amplified at an international scale to highlight the region’s equal value and importance.”
And the Great Lakes coastal communities want to act, too.
Over 90% of the community leaders surveyed are interested in building their skills and employee capacity to deal with flooding and erosion.
A video report on the preliminary survey results from the advisory council will be available on their website.
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Featured image: A stormy Lake Superior sends waves crashing against Duluth’s shoreline. (Great Lakes Now Episode 1026)