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


  City of Douglas


  Ganges Township


  Laketown Township 


  City of Saugatuck


  Saugatuck Township



Antrim County

  Banks Township


  City of Elk Rapids


  Elk Rapids Township


  Milton Township


  Torch Lake Township



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 



Berrien County

  Benton Township


  City of Bridgman


  Chikaming Township


  Village of Grand Beach


  Hagar Township


  Lake Township (Berrien)


  Lincoln Township


  City of New Buffalo


  New Buffalo Township


  St. Joseph Township and City of St. Joseph


  Village of Shoreham



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


  City of Petoskey


  Readmond Township


  Resort Township


  West Traverse Township



Gogebic County

  Ironwood Township



Grand Traverse County

  Acme Township


  Garfield Township


  Peninsula Township


  City of Traverse City



Houghton County

  Calumet Township


  Hancock Township


  Schoolcraft Township


  Stanton Township


  Torch Lake Township



Huron County

  Caseville Township


  Lake Township


  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


  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


  City of Manistee


  Manistee Township


  Onekama Township



Mason County

  Grant Township


  Hamlin Township


  City of Ludington


  Pere Marquette Township


  Summit Township



Menominee County

  Cedarville Township


  Ingallston Township 


  Menominee Township and City of Menominee



Muskegon County

  Fruitland Township


  Laketon Township


  City of Muskegon


  City of Norton Shores


  White River Township 



Oceana County

  Benona Township


  Claybanks Township


  Golden Township


  Village of Pentwater


  Pentwater Township



Ottawa County

  City of Ferrysburg


  City of Grand Haven


  Grand Haven Township


  Park Township


  Port Sheldon Township


  Spring Lake Township



St. Clair County

  Burtchville Township


  City of Port Huron


  Fort Gratiot Township



Sanilac County

  Delaware Township


  Forester Township


  Village of Forestville


  Village of Lexington


  Lexington Township


  Village of Port Sanilac


  Sanilac Township


  Worth Township



Schoolcraft County

  Thompson Township



Van Buren County

  Covert Township


  City of South Haven


  South Haven Township