Survey Finds Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Communities to Spend Nearly $2 Billion to Combat Coastal Damages

July 16, 2021

Survey respondents reported spending $878 million over past two years to respond to coastal challenges.

A survey of 241 cities, villages and other jurisdictions along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River shows that coastal damage from climate change will cost at least $1.94 billion over the next five years, with shoreline communities having already spent $878 million over the past two years. 

According to the press release about the survey, these figures only represent a fraction of the true need as not all shoreline jurisdictions are reflected in this figure.

“While water levels in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin are naturally variable with cyclical highs and lows, climate change is exacerbating these fluctuations, with water levels reaching record highs in recent years,” said Mayor Walter Sendzik, chair of the Cities Initiative in the press release. “High water levels, paired with severe storm events and wave action, are leading to greater erosion and flooding that threaten public and private properties, critical infrastructure, and recreation and tourism amenities in shoreline communities.”

This new information illustrates the scope and magnitude of climate impacts on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and the need for increased federal assistance for coastal communities struggling to respond to threats to critical infrastructure and assets along their shorelines. According to the press release, The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, along with other regional organizations, are calling for funding in an upcoming infrastructure package to enable Great Lakes states and local governments to prepare for, respond to, and build resilience to current and future impacts from high lake levels and severe weather events.

“Communities around the Great Lakes face a growing crisis, and we need both the Federal Governments of the U.S. and Canada to assist with the necessary investments,” said Mayor Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the press release. “Our coastal infrastructure is vital to the economic and recreational health of our communities, and coordinated action is required.”

The eight Great Lakes states have over 4,500 miles of shoreline, nearly as much as all the states bordering on the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and west coasts combined. A substantial, targeted investment in coastal resilience in the Great Lakes is warranted and will generate substantial benefits for the environmental and economic health of shoreline communities in the region. 

Top concerns and priorities from the survey include:

  • More than 95% of respondents were highly or moderately concerned about coastal issues facing their community; And
  • More than 80% of respondents reported water level and flooding forecasts to be very important to their jurisdiction’s work on coastal planning.

More information about survey responses to communication and engagement, resources and support, planning and response can be found in the press release here

The Coastal Resilience Needs Assessment Survey was completed in partnership with the University of Illinois Applied Research Institute and collected information from March through May 2021. The survey received nearly 300 responses from 241 jurisdictions across all eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.