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Coastal erosion projected to cost the Great Lakes $2 billion over the next 5 years, due to climate change

The term "third coast" refers to American cities that sit on the Great Lakes shoreline, like Chicago.
Jeff Haynes
AFP/Getty Images
The term "third coast" refers to American cities that sit on the Great Lakes shoreline, like Chicago.

Climate change is a global threat, and the effects are already becoming clear in Milwaukee and throughout the Great Lakes region.

A recent survey by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative found that over the next five years, communities will spend nearly $2 billion in combating damage to the coastline.

"We've seen not only the rise in temperatures of the lakes, which has severely impacted the ecology of the ecosystem, but we've also seen a rising water levels of multiple feet. One of the biggest issues when it comes to the rise in water level is erosion. A recent study that we showed shows about $2 billion, with the damage expected along the Great Lakes municipal lands," says John Altenberg, the executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

As climate change causes destruction in other parts of the county, the Great Lakes region may become flooded with new residents.

Altenberg also points to issues of different species of fish dying off and algae blooms in the Great Lakes.

Yet, he says Great Lakes states should expect to see greater future demand and interest because of the drying out of the coasts and our access to freshwater.

The cost and logistics to remedy these issues are big and challenging. Altenberg says, "When it comes to cost sharing, there's just not enough federal funding to be able to make this work. Our cities aren't prepared even to apply for this funding. They don't have the resources. They don't have the expertise. They don't know about the new technologies that are out there, so there's a lot of challenges to this."

And, he points out that there's a difference between fixing the damage and preparing for the future damage that may occur.

Though federal infrastructure legislation directed $6 billion in funds to strengthen resiliencies across all coastal communities — not just the Great Lakes, Altenberg says it's simply not enough.

"We're looking at ancient infrastructure, we're looking at lead lines, lead pipes that are in many of our larger and smaller communities, where lead is still going into the homes and causing significant problems with our health. Everything's hitting us kind of will be hitting us at once. It takes a lot of work to get ahead of," he says.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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