Coastal Communities

Wisconsin  Sea Grant applies technical expertise and geographic information systems to provide advice on issues related to coastal hazards and watershed planning along Wisconsin's Great Lakes shorelines.

Green Infrastructure

Publication Helps Communities Evaluate Local Codes to Facilitate Green Infrastructure
Think differently about managing stormwater runoff. Existing municipal codes may restrict or even prohibit green infrastructure. Successful green infrastructure projects require community support. If you'd like to encourage green infrastructure in your area, you'll need to evaluate local priorities, values and goals as well as specific codes and ordinances. This new publication can help you with all of these needs. Read more...

Community Economics

The Economic Impacts of Restoring Wisconsin's Sheboygan River
An economic impact study was developed to assess activity related to restoration and remediation of the Sheboygan River. This study, initiated by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was intended to develop baseline data for 2013 with similar studies planned in 2015 and 2017. Read more...

Great Lakes Coastal Storms Program

Great Lakes Coastal Storms Program
The Great Lakes Coastal Storms Program is a regional effort led by the National and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make Great Lakes communities safer and more resilient to coastal hazards. Read more...

Guiding Principle on Coastal Outreach

Role of Wisconsin Sea Grant in Coastal Areas
What is the guiding principle of Wisconsin Sea Grant work in coastal communities? That answer lies in a situational analysis. Read more...

Community Planning

Great Lakes Coastal Community Planning Resource
The Great Lakes Coastal Community Planning Resource provides a toolkit to support comprehensive planning and sustainable development along the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coasts of Wisconsin. Read more...

Coastal Community Planning and Development Reading List
This list covers classic planning literature and general planning texts, smart growth and new urbanism, environmental planning, waterfront and coastal planning and Great Lakes issues. Read more...

Coastal Heritage Tourism

Wisconsin Coastal Guide
This interactive site details cultural and natural attractions along Wisconsin's Great Lakes coasts. Read more...

Coastal Beaches

Wisconsin Coastal Beaches Workgroup
Coastal beaches provide substantial economic, social, and quality-of-life benefits. The Coastal Beaches Workgroup serves the 
professionals, researchers, and funders involved in the management and improvement of Wisconsin's 200+ Great Lakes beaches.


Coastal Hazards

Social Science and Severe Weather
Social science can be used to understand and improve risk communication. In the event of a severe thunderstorm or tornado, weather forecasters need to get accurate information out quickly to the public.  

Visualizing Coastal Processes
Animation, aerial photography, pictures, charts and text presented here go a long way toward explaining the technical reasons behind coastal processes. Read more...


Measuring Bluff Erosion
New technical approaches help people understand how and why bluffs erode and slide away, threatening property and endangering lives. The work is supported by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Read more...

Confronting Coastal Erosion and Flooding
Adam Bechle is learning to help coastal residents in Wisconsin confront coastal erosion and flooding. Bechle is the is the new J. Keillor Wisconsin Coastal Management and Wisconsin Sea Grant Fellow. Read more...

Revitalizing Local Waterfront Economies
This video outlines the Great Lakes Legacy Act and highlights benefits it brings to communities. Read more...

Dr. David Hart: Specialist in Geographic Information Systems
Dr. David Hart tells us about his job at the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, including his efforts with the Wisconsin Coastal Atlas. Read more...

Wisconsin Coastal Guide
See what there is to see along Wisconsin's Lake Michigan and Lake Superior shores. Read more...

Beyond the Usual Suspects
E. coli bacteria sometimes contaminates the waters of Bradford Beach in Milwaukee. Where does it come from? How can it be reduced? Dr. Sandra MacLellan cracks the case. Read more...

Increasing Safety at Sea Caves
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has become a world-class destination for sea kayaking, but some of the most popular attractions can also be treacherous. Under certain conditions, the sea caves can quickly change from awe-inspiring to terrifying. A new Sea Grant system improves safety. Read more...


Risk-based Assessment and Management (RAMAN) Online Visualization Tools for Health of Bluff, Beach and Nearshore Environments on Wisconsin’s Coast

Chin Wu, UW-Madison, (608) 263-3078,
Qunying Huang, UW-Madison
Adam Bechle, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Gene Clark, Wisconsin Sea Grant

Risks from coastal bluff and shoreline erosion threaten personal safety, property and infrastructure along Great Lakes coastlines. Researchers will identify hazards near coastal structures on bluffed and sandy coasts through measurements of bluff and shoreline recession, bluff profiles, nearshore sediment thickness and nearshore sediment transport. Assessments of hazards will be conducted using observed data and models of bluff stability, shoreline change and sediment budgets to predict bluff/shoreline positions. The outcomes of the hazard assessment will be intersected with socioeconomic indexes to provide direct and indirect risk assessments – the first estimates in Wisconsin of expected damages to property from coastal erosion. Risks will be communicated to management, planners and stakeholders through a spatial web portal and 3D interactive bluff erosion visualization. Overall, this project will provide managers and stakeholders with the information needed to take targeted actions along the coast and understand potential positive and negative impacts of coastal protection measures. R/RCE-11

The Impact of Reengineering on Both Beach Water Quality and the Economic Value of the Beach

Greg Kleinheinz, UW-Oshkosh, (920) 424-1100,
Matthew Winden, UW-Whitewater
Nilay Sheth, UW-Oshkosh

Based on extensive monitoring, researchers at UW-Oshkosh carried out mitigation at five beaches in northern Wisconsin, including redesigning each beach, treating stormwater and naturalizing the shoreline surrounding the beach area to promote natural sand retention and wave action. An unintended benefit of this work has been a significant increase in beach usage at beaches that have undergone these redesign plans. Researchers will assess the physical, chemical and biological water quality parameters after mitigation to ensure the remediation was successful. In addition to these more standard measures, choice valuation and economic impact analysis will be used to determine what features are used by beachgoers who visit a location and how much money they spend on the beach trip. The beach improvement assessment will be of critical importance when other communities assess best management practices at their beaches and whether investment of public funding goes to support mitigation. R/RCE-10

Characterizing and Forecasting Dangerous Currents on the South Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Chin Wu, UW-Madison, (608) 263-3078,
Lian Shen, University of Minnesota, (612) 625-7527,
Jesse Schomberg, University of Minnesota
Jerald Henneck, University of Minnesota
Todd Breiby, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program
Gene Clark, Wisconsin Sea Grant
Deidre Peroff, Wisconsin Sea Grant
Richard Axler, University of Minnesota

Dangerous currents in Lake Superior have been responsible for deaths and many rescues, yet no forecasts are available that cover the entire coastline. To address this issue, researchers plan to characterize and forecast dangerous currents and build a collaborative community on the Minnesota-Wisconsin south shore of Lake Superior. Characterization of dangerous currents will be conducted using remote sensing analysis, field measurements and cross-scale modeling, which will improve understanding the mechanisms of generating dangerous currents. Forecasts of dangerous currents will be provided through an Integrated Nowcast – Forecast Operational System (INFOS) for Dangerous Currents in Lake Superior, which integrates real-time water observations and a high-fidelity nearshore circulation model to predict real-time (nowcast) and future (forecast) information of dangerous currents. Lastly, a collaborative framework for dangerous current watches, warnings and advisories will be built through outreach and education, and coordination and communication. Jointly funded with Minnesota Sea Grant. R/RCE-09

A Comprehensive Analysis of Sediment Delivery to Lake Michigan From Coastal Bluffs in Southeastern Wisconsin

Lucas Zoet, UW-Madison, (608) 262-1921,
J. Elmo Rawling, UW-Extension

High lake levels are reducing beach area along the Lake Michigan coastline and allowing wave action to erode the bases of coastal bluffs at the highest rate of the past 30 years. Sediment budget calculations have shown that bluff erosion is the dominant source of sand and gravel-sized particles that are mobilized into beaches and the nearshore system. Researchers have found that the leading cause of bluff erosion is shallow to intermediate depth translational landslides. Therefore, estimating lake sediment budgets depends on an understanding of the mechanisms that lead to landslide failure. This study will provide a comprehensive analysis of bluff stability for bluffs affected by landslide failure coupled with an analysis of bluff composition to determine the composition of sediment contributions of coastal bluffs to the southeast Lake Michigan sediment budget. R/RCE-08

Development of Geo-Indicators for Assessment of Coastal Bluff Ecosystem in Lake Michigan for Regional Integrated Bluff Management (IBM)

Chin Wu, UW-Madison, (608) 263-3078,

Coastal bluffs along the Great Lakes are a sensitive landscape feature, often containing both vital shoreline habitat at the bluff toe and urbanized development at the crest. Sediments in the coastal bluff environment (CBE) play an important role in ecosystem function. Movements of sediment are constantly altered by natural climate factors and anthropogenic coastal development, making a sediment budget accounting for sources, sinks and pathways of sediment transport critical. In this project we will develop three sets of geo-indicators to parameterize the CBE, quantify coastal processes on a regional sediment budget and characterize the health or function services of the CBE. The resilience of geo-indicators in response to stressors like coastal development and climate change would be examined on three sites of varying urbanization along the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan. The geo-indicators would help coastal managers effectively assess the health of the coastal bluff ecosystem for regional integrated bluff management (IBM) along Lake Michigan. (R/RCE-02)

Improving Upon Flash Flooding Risk Assessments and Forecasts for Great Lakes Cities

Paul Roebber, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 229-3950,

Great Lakes communities inevitably face heavy rainfall and flash flooding events. Although we have a significant amount of historical and future projections of precipitation data as it relates to flooding throughout the Milwaukee and Chicago regions, we lack an integration of that precipitation-flooding knowledge with critical atmospheric signals, antecedent atmospheric and soil conditions, and land-surface information. This project will develop several operational tools using both types of information that forecasters, emergency management personnel and the broader community can use when either a heavy rainfall event is predicted or as part of long-term planning. The project includes testing and dissemination of the tools. By taking the necessary steps to develop resiliency recommendations and emergency response tools to protect critical infrastructures and dwellings, these major Great Lakes cities will reduce their vulnerability to extreme precipitation, reduce loss to life and property, and increase their overall resilience to climate change. R/RCE-03

Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Adaptation Planning in the Chequamegon Bay Region of Lake Superior

Randy Lehr, Northland College, (715) 682-1261,

Climate change adaptation planning is a critical need in the Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands region of Lake Superior. Because of its unique history of land use and infrastructure development, geomorphology and localized precipitation patterns, the Chequamegon Bay area is arguably the most vulnerable region in the Lake Superior basin with respect to climate change. To address these challenges, this project will implement comprehensive, integrated assessment that connects community leaders, staff from local and tribal governments, and local elected officials with scientific and subject matter experts surrounding the issue of climate change adaptation in the region. This work will empower local governments to adapt to climate change impacts and develop a roadmap toward climate change adaptation that integrates unique local planning needs into the context of an interconnected regional system. R/RCE-04

The Hydrologic and Ecologic Effects of Green Infrastructure Within Urban Coastal Catchments

Steve Loheide, UW-Madison, (608) 265-5277,

There is increasing interest in green infrastructure strategies such as rain barrels, porous pavement, native landscaping, rain gardens and green roofs. Yet widespread adoption of these practices has been slow, in part due to lingering uncertainty in site-specific performance and lack of engagement by private homeowners. Realistic expectations of performance for sites with different fine-scaled characteristics under a range of weather scenarios is key to executing successful projects that encourage engagement by homeowners. By performing factorial modeling using ParFlow with Common Land Model, we will be able to explore these details at a larger scale than has been done before. By synthesizing our results into a visualization tool and set of guidelines, we will make these results easily accessible to planners, professionals, private residents and students and help to develop an informed citizenry that understands the impact of individual, distributed stormwater management decisions on broader hydrological and ecological outcomes. R/RCE-05


Improve Environmental Literacy of Lake Michigan Coastal Communities

Sea Grant has developed a variety of educational programs for students and teachers. Social science tools and theories are often needed to understand better stakeholders with diverse cultural backgrounds, beliefs and values, and to learn how to effectively engage them in solving complex water problems. Combined with outreach and community engagement, social science tools, methods and theory will be used to both assess and improve environmental literacy and, in effect, build capacity and environmental stewardship among coastal communities.

Promote Environmental Justice in Wisconsin’s Coastal Communities

Sea Grant is initiating projects and outreach efforts to increase access to and responsible use of coastal resources and opportunities among disenfranchised communities—ensuring water-related risks do not negatively affect one group over another. Social science tools and theory can be applied to local or regional environmental justice projects and may overlap with subjects such as water safety, tourism/recreation, response to severe weather and disasters, water quality, traditional ecological knowledge and others.

Sustainable Great Lakes Tourism
Deep travel can both sustain local economies and promote stewardship of scenic and cultural resources. The Wisconsin Coastal Guide is an interactive web mapping site promoting coastal heritage tourism along the Great Lakes Circle Tour route. This project will enhance the guide with an image-rich interface, promote a new inventory of coastal public access and develop place-based learning activities in the spirit of British letterboxing that promote discovery and exploration of cultural heritage and scenic resources of the Great Lakes coasts in Wisconsin.

Leverage Geographic Information Science to Promote Adaptive Coastal Management
Sea Grant collaborates with partners to apply geospatial technologies to understand better Great Lakes coastal management and in the next four years will 1) continue development of the Wisconsin Coastal Atlas as a component of a coastal spatial data infrastructure for the Great Lakes region and as an interoperable data catalog searchable as part of a global network of coastal atlases; and 2) demonstrate how narrative maps, place-based learning, 3-D visualization and emerging geospatial technologies can be used to promote resilience to coastal hazards and ecosystem-based management.

Building Resilient Coastal Communities
Great Lake coastal communities are faced with storm hazards, including bluff and shoreline erosion, runoff pollution and flooding. The increasing frequency and severity of weather events make planning for coastal storm hazards an important part of helping communities become more resilient to climate change. This effort will focus on planning and mitigation actions to reduce storm hazards impacts.

Coastal Engineering Project, Grant Proposal Review and Permit Assistance
Great Lakes shoreline and coastal regions continue to receive pressure from both occasional weekend vacationers, and especially, year-round property owners and developments. Record levels of waterfront activities as well as the high demand for coastal property have created increased levels of human pressure on fragile shoreline areas. Sea Grant and state and federal governmental partners will meet critical needs of property owners, resource managers, lenders, insurers, engineers, realtors and local, regional and statewide agencies with natural coastal hazard awareness, permit review assistance, grant proposal reviews, coastal engineering guidance, education opportunities and shoreline management tools. Special emphasis will be placed on harbors.

Great Lakes Nature-Based (Green) Coastal Shoreline Protection Coastal Engineering Outreach and Promotion of Appropriate Use in Great Lakes Applications
Nature-based coastal shoreline protection uses a range of nature-based stabilization techniques combined with traditional “grey” methods to provide a proven and cost-effective alternative. Grey solutions involve concrete, steel and stone shoreline protection. The keys to successful green installations have been a wise choice of location and material/design selections. This effort will continue efforts to partner with stakeholders, learning from successful nature-based demonstration projects, identifying locations and providing outreach.

Harbor Dredging Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Outreach and Project Assistance
The maritime industry relies on adequate water depth in harbors and connecting channels for navigation. Maintaining that depth in areas of natural accumulation of sediments requires periodic dredging. Slightly more than half of the dredged sediment is disposed of in specifically designed confined facilities. Sea Grant and its private sector and governmental partners will work to raise awareness about the value of dredged material as a sustainable resource that can be beneficially used.

Related Publications

State of the Bay 2013
For the most recent information about water quality, fish and wildlife populations, aquatic invasive species, beach conditions and the status of contaminants in Green Bay, Wisconsin, see this free downloadable publication. Read more...

Related Websites

NOAA Land Cover Change Atlas
NOAA provides a visual and detailed map of the U.S. and its coastal counties. It offers data on land cover and land change information on intertidal areas, wetlands and adjacent uplands, updated every five years.

Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth
A new NOAA website provides tools, resources and case studies about how smart-growth strategies can help coastal communities manage development while balancing environmental, economic and quality-of-life issues. Read more...

Wisconsin's Water Library

Wisconsin's Water Library has reading lists on many different topics.  Take a look at the coastal planning and development reading list.