Boulders and sea walls: Fighting Lake Michigan erosion

Rising Waters

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WOOD) — High water levels on Lake Michigan have property owners looking for solutions to fight back against devastating erosion.

Waterfront engineering and design firm Edgewater Resources is working on projects throughout the Great Lakes. Greg Weykamp, the founder of the St. Joseph-based firm, says many methods are used, like placing large boulders on a slope.

“It absorbs and actually dissipates a lot of that wave energy so it doesn’t actually bounce back off, so that’s why we use that the most,” Weykamp said.

Other property owners have turned to a steel sea wall with stones at the base. Sometimes boulders are placed out away from the shore to break up waves.

While Weykamp noted the lake levels cycle naturally, he expects new records will be set this year.

“Normally we went up and down over this sort of five- to 15-year period,” he said. “What the climate projections are calling for now is that we’ll see that up and down to be much more volatile.”

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The mild winter temperatures are also having an impact along the lakeshore.

“We normally have a lot of ice cover and that keeps the wave action hitting the shore and since that’s not happening, we’re seeing much more erosion,” Weykamp said.

Lake Michigan in St. Joseph. (Feb. 10, 2020)

Last month, Lake Michigan broke the water level record for January by more than 3 inches and high levels are forecast to continue to rise into the summer — but Weykamp says there will eventually be relief.

“We’re going go back down,” Weykamp said. “Five, eight years from now it won’t surprise me if we’re back down to the low water levels we saw in 2013, 14, 15.”

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