Managing High Water: Part Two – Restoring Natural Lakeshores

Ralph Bednarz

Limnologist Ralph Bednarz moved to his new home on Rennie Lake in Grand Traverse County just a couple of years ago and already the water is taking over part of his shoreline. In fact, many home and cottage owners on lakes throughout Michigan are witnessing record high lake levels and responding with emergency measures like sand bags.

In this video, we learn from experts at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) that permits are required to build structures at or below the ordinary high water mark of inland lakes anywhere in the state. So, property owners should take the time to talk things over with EGLE before piling rock or building seawalls on their waterfronts.

Eric Calabro

In the long run, steep rock walls and sheet metal seawalls are not a very good responses to high water, says EGLE’s Eric Calabro. These structures disrupt lake ecosystems and are often expensive to build and to maintain. He encourages owners to consider working with EGLE and other experts to reconstruct natural shorelines with techniques sometimes called bio-remediation.

Now and over the longer term, local governments play important roles in managing the impacts of high surface water and groundwater levels, according to Liz Kirkwood, J.D., Executive Director of FLOW – For Love of Water. Michigan’s villages, cities, townships and counties can all participate in providing information and education to lakeshore owners. Most importantly, local policies like master plans and zoning ordinances can include requirements to build structures further back from wet areas (i.e., setbacks) and  encourage native vegetation along the shorelines.

Liz Kirkwood

Bednarz says natural shorelines involving deep-rooted native plants help break up wave energy and provide habitat needed for a healthy lake ecosystem. Seawalls and other shore barriers disrupt the land-water interface and can prevent the movement of turtles, frogs and other creatures that need both land and water.

Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist, Heather Hettinger points out that high water levels can actually be a good thing. There are a number of popular game fish that spawn in flooded vegetation near lakes and streams. Apparently, rising water levels have helped to rapidly increase the populations of fish like perch and pike in recent years.

Heather Hettinger

Bednarz and Calabro say that the restoration of natural shorelines is encouraged by EGLE and is usually both easier to permit and less costly than shoreline armoring. For more information and help in restoring natural shorelines they recommend reaching out to the Michigan Natural Shorelines Partnership. The partnership is supported by EGLE, DNR and several nonprofit organizations to provide information and guidance to waterfront owners on how to apply bio-remediation techniques that restore natural shorelines and improve overall lake health. The Partnership also helps to connect land owners with expert designers and installers.

Nature Change extends a big “Thank You!’ to Cody Kreiger (Kreeeg Media) for the drone video.

Thanks also to FLOW – For Love of Water and Jody Marquis for helping to sponsor this video production.

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