High Risk Erosion Areas: Program and Maps

Contact: Kate Lederle 517-284-5564

The shorelands of the Great Lakes are a dynamic and quickly changing environment. Lake levels may fluctuate dramatically in response to weather and climate. Wave action, storms, wind, ground water seepage, surface water runoff, and frost are contributing factors to changing and reshaping the shoreline. During periods of low water property owners are often lulled into believing homes may be safely built closer to the water's edge. Yet longtime residents have many stories about high water levels, the subsequent erosion of the Great Lakes shoreline and the homes that have fallen into the lake as their foundations have been compromised. This destruction has resulted in severe financial loss to property owners. Public losses to recreation facilities, roads and other public works have also occurred. Structures threatened by erosion may be moved landward, protected by costly shore protection or lost.

The purpose of the High Risk Erosion Area program is to prevent structural property loss in an area of the shoreland that is determined by the department, on the basis of studies and surveys, to be subject to erosion as required by Part 323 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994  PA 451 as amended (NREPA) and the corresponding Administrative Rules.  High risk erosion areas are those shorelands of the Great Lakes where recession of the landward edge of active erosion has been occurring at a long-term average rate of one foot or more per year, over a minimum period of 15 years.  DEQ staff conducted the initial recession rate research of coastal counties between 1980 and 1986; during that time they identified high risk erosion areas in 36 of 41 coastal counties.  Recession rates change over time as water levels fluctuate and coastal conditions change. The recession rate research is ongoing and often results in changes to the locations of high risk erosion areas along the shoreline.

The high risk erosion area program increases consumer awareness of the danger of shore erosion and allows staff to provide advice and technical assistance to many citizens living with the dynamic Great Lakes shorelines.  Presently about 7,500 individual property owners are affected by setback requirements. All citizens benefit from the program's efforts to reduce the need for public disaster assistance, promote consumer protection, and reduce the loss of natural resources.

Studying the Shoreline

The rates of recession are determined by comparing the location of the erosion hazard line of the shoreline on historical and modern aerial photographs. Depending on the availability of historical aerial photos the studies typically cover the longest possible time period to capture the widest range of water levels and shoreline fluctuations. Additional information from fieldwork, shoreline photos, and online resources, such as the 2012 USACE Great Lakes Oblique Imagery, is used to aid in the determination of the erosion hazard line.  The recession rate data are used to calculate the appropriate setback distances for construction.  Setbacks are determined for the projected recession of the shoreline 30 years and 60 years into the future.  The 30 year setback distance (feet) is for those structures considered readily moveable as defined in Rule R 281.21 (k). If the structure was threatened by erosion it could be moved landward before loss of the structure occurred. The 60 year distance is for non-readily moveable structures such as a septic system. These structures are too large, or not possible, to move. Once a recession rate study is complete the property owners, and their local officials, in the proposed high risk erosion areas are notified and given the opportunity to comment on the proposed designations before they become effective.


A DEQ permit is required prior to construction on a parcel in a high risk erosion area regardless of where the structure is proposed on the parcel. Any person or local governmental agency proposing to erect, install, move, or enlarge a permanent structure on a parcel must obtain a permit prior to the commencement of construction. The projects requiring a permit include the construction of a house, garage or addition, substantial reconstruction or restoration of an existing home, the installation or upgrade of a septic system or a commercial building. During the permit application review the proposed location of the structure will be compared to the required setback distance for the site. Depending on the site the setback may be measured from the top of the bluff or the erosion hazard line. The permit application and associated fees are found online as is the ability to track applications.  Beginning August 17, 2015, application processing moved into MiWaters

Local units of government may adopt a zoning ordinance for high risk erosion areas to assume regulatory authority under Part 323 of NREPA which, if approved by the Department, replaces the need for a state high risk erosion area permit. Other state permits such as those required for critical dune areas, wetlands or shore protection may still be necessary from the Department. The Department then monitors the performance of the community and provides technical assistance.  Some local units of government adopt zoning ordinances which regulate setbacks but do not assume the authority of Part 323 of NREPA.  In those communities a permit is required from the Department and from the local community for construction in a high risk erosion area.


Currently approximately 250 miles of shoreline are designated as high risk erosion areas along the shorelines of Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. Township maps show the locations and setbacks for each of the areas.

Local township clerks have lists of the property tax identification numbers available at the time of the high risk erosion area designation.  Due to parcel splits the identification numbers may change yet the designation runs with the land so the resulting parcels are also designated and will require a permit for regulated structures.

If further information is needed regarding whether or not a parcel is regulated contact the person at the top of this page with the property tax identification number and location information including county, township, and address.


Alger County

  Burt Township              


Allegan County

  Casco Township  
  Ganges Township   
  Laketown Township   
  Saugatuck Township   


Antrim County

  Banks Township   
  Elk Rapids Township  
  Milton Township  
  Torch Lake Township (Antrim)   


Baraga County

  Arvon Township   
  Baraga Township   
  L'Anse Township   


Bay County

  Bangor Township   


Benzie County

  Blaine Township   
  Crystal Lake Township, Village of Elberta, City of Frankfort      
  Gilmore Township  
  Lake Township (Benzie)   


Berrien County

  Benton Township   
  Chikaming Township   
  Hagar Township   
  Lake Township (Berrien)   
  Lincoln Township   
  New Buffalo Township, City of New Buffalo  
  St. Joseph Township and City of St. Joseph  


Chippewa County

  Bay Mills Township  
  Soo Township  
  Whitefish Township - northwest portion  
  Whitefish Township - north central portion  
  Whitefish Township - Whitefish Point  
  Whitefish Township - Tahquamenon River mouth  


Delta County

  Ensign Township   
  Escanaba Township and City of Gladstone  
  Ford River Township   
  Masonville Township   
  Wells Township  


Emmet County

  Bear Creek Township  
  Bliss Township   
  Cross Village Township   
  Readmond Township  
  Resort Township  
  West Traverse Township   


Gogebic County

  Ironwood Township  


Grand Traverse County

  Acme Township  
  Garfield Township and City of Traverse City  
  Peninsula Township   


Houghton County

  Calumet Township   
  Hancock Township   
  Schoolcraft Township   
  Stanton Township   
  Torch Lake Township (Houghton)   


Huron County

  Caseville Township  
  Lake Township (Huron)   
  Port Austin Township and Village of Port Austin  


Iosco County

  Alabaster Township   
  Au Sable Township   
  Baldwin & Tawas Townships, Cities of Tawas and East Tawas  
  Oscoda Township   


Keweenaw County

  Allouez Township  
  Eagle Harbor Township  
  Grant Township (Keweenaw)   
  Houghton Township   


Leelanau County

  Bingham Township  
  Empire Township  
  Glen Arbor Township   
  Leelanau Township   
  Leland Township  
  Suttons Bay Township   


Luce County

  McMillan Township   


Mackinac County

  Garfield Township   
  Moran Township  
  Newton Township  


Manistee County

  Arcadia Township   
  Filer Township and City of Manistee  
  Manistee Township  
  Onekama Township   


Mason County

  Grant Township (Mason)   
  Hamlin Township   
  Pere Marquette Township  
  Summit Township   


Menominee County

  Cedarville Township  
  Ingallston Township   
  Menominee Township and City of Menominee  


Muskegon County

  Fruitland Township   
  Laketon Township  
  Muskegon Township and City of Muskegon  
  Norton Shores Township and City of Norton Shores  
  White River Township   


Oceana County

  Benona Township   
  Claybanks Township   
  Golden Township   
  Pentwater Township  


Ottawa County

  Grand Haven Township   
  Park Township   
  Port Sheldon Township   
  Spring Lake Township, City of Ferrysburg, City of Grand Haven  


St. Clair County

  Burtchville Township   
  City of Port Huron   
  Fort Gratiot Township   


Sanilac County

  Delaware Township   
  Forester Township   
  Lexington Township   
  Sanilac Township   
  Worth Township   


Schoolcraft County

  Thompson Township           


Van Buren County

  Covert Township  
  South Haven Township and City of South Haven