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Great Lakes Shoreline Erosion - A Natural Occurrence

April 30, 2019

Shoreland with fallen shed due to erosionAs Michiganders, we love our shoreline with its sandy beaches, dune grass, bluffs, and shady forests. We have over 3,000 miles of shoreline on the Great Lakes. When we walk the beach, we see changes to the shoreline from the wind and waves. Lately, there is less beach to walk on near the water’s edge. The water levels of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, St. Clair, and Erie are currently higher than normal. With higher water levels, storms and wave action has moved sand and gravel out into the lake to be redistributed along the shoreline. This is called erosion when the sand, and sometimes shrubs and trees, are washed away. It’s a natural shoreline process typical of the Great Lakes.

The power of the Great Lakes is considerable as longtime lake watchers will tell you. A single storm can take away or create a beach. The same storm can eat away at the bottom of a bluff until the top of the bluff collapses. Now the house on top of the bluff is that much closer to the edge. This story repeats with every storm until the house is in danger of falling into the lake.

Can erosion be stopped? Yes, for a short time. Some property owners, with a permit, place rocks or walls near the water’s edge to protect their shoreline from erosion. But shore protection does not make a good neighbor. The energy from the waves hitting the protected shore is deflected to the neighbor’s property on either side. Now the waves are eroding the neighbor’s shoreline and the protected property is becoming a peninsula. Eventually, the shoreline will require more protection.  To learn about erosion and living on a Great Lake shoreline, visit and see the section "Protecting Your Shoreline."

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