|Title||What Could Changing Great Lakes Water Levels Mean for our Coastal Communities? A case for climate-adapted planning approaches|
|Year of Publication||2012|
|Institution||The Nature Conservancy|
The Great Lakes are a national and international treasure. They hold 20% of the world's fresh surface water and meet a variety of needs for more than 45 million people in the Great Lakes region, covering parts of the United States and Canada (CDM 2010, International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012). They serve as the backbone for a $4 trillion regional U.S. economy (U.S. Department of Commerce 2011), and are the foundation of our quality of life in the Great Lakes region. Warming temperatures and more extreme precipitation patterns are acting on an ecological system that has already been dramatically changed since European settlement, including loss of over 80% of wetlands in the southern half of the region (IL, IN, OH; Mitsch and Gosselink 2007). Climate change projections suggest continued changes in the hydrology (the movement of water) of the Great Lakes region, including higher risk of more intense drought and flooding, and changes in the factors that influence Great Lakes water levels. This case study aims to motivate and empower coastal communities to engage in climate-adapted planning and decision-making. Our goal is to provide an introduction to key resources for decision-makers, and examples of ways to think about what a rise or decline in lake levels could mean to coastal community assets. The two examples provided consider historic high and low water levels, likely future changes in water levels, and other climate-related changes that may influence decision-making. First, the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board is using lake level projection data to inform and redefine water level regulations for Lake Superior (International Upper Great Lakes Study 2012). Their adaptive management approach may be a model that can be applied locally by coastal communities, using available online data and tools, as they consider planning scenarios under extreme high and low water levels along with other climate threats. Our second example illustrates how this approach could be applied to promote climate adapted planning for Northern Pike management in Green Bay, Wisconsin.