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By the Numbers: Shoreline protection permit numbers fall for good reason

More is not always better. When water levels were at record highs in fiscal year 2020, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) expedited and approved more than 2,200 permits for Great Lakes shoreline work, the vast majority to protect homes and critical infrastructure at immediate risk of damage. But approving only 410 such permits in FY2022 is in many ways a win.

Installed bioengineering project on Intermediate Lake in Antrim County.

Installed bioengineering project on Intermediate Lake in Antrim County.

It reflects two realities: lake levels returning to near normal levels, and EGLE’s favoring of natural solutions and resiliency planning for shoreline protection over permitting traditional “armoring” of shorelines with artificial seawalls or breakwaters.

About 90% of the 2,238 permits approved for Great Lakes shoreline work in FY 2020 – representing about one-third of all the permits issued by the Resources Program of EGLE’s Water Resources Division (WRD) – were for projects that included shoreline protection.

In FY 2022, just over half of the 410 Great Lakes shoreline work permits approved involved shoreline protection and represented only about 10% of all WRD Resources Program permits approved.

High water levels and resulting coastal erosion are natural and repeating long term cycles. They can also cause significant damage along our 3,300 miles of coastline. While shoreline armoring, or hardening, is sometimes useful in an emergency, it can hurt biodiversity, damage adjoining property, and inhibit the natural shoreline processes that are responsible for Michigan’s incredible coastal landscapes. Better alternatives can include planting or maintaining buffers of trees and native vegetation, installing biodegradable or removable temporary erosion control measures, or moving structures out of harm’s way. Planning for high and low water cycles during future development is the most effective way to protect communities and property owners. More information is available at

EGLE’s permitting programs guide individual projects toward the solution with the smallest negative impact. Such alternatives can often meet the needs of an applicant without traditional hardening of shorelines. 

Meanwhile, although water levels have receded, EGLE urges planning for the next high-water cycle, made more unpredictable by the effects of climate change on Great Lakes precipitation and temperatures.