The Great Lakes see the impact of climate change: “The highs are getting higher and the lows are getting lower”

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More intense storms, fueled by climate change, are battering shorelines and cities throughout the Great Lakes, pulling the land right out from under some homes. 

“Cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, they all have to adapt to this,” said Melissa Scanlan, director of the Center for Water Policy at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. 

Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan, which has swung from record-low water levels in 2013 to record highs the past few years. 

“The highs are getting higher and the lows are getting lower,” Scanlan said. “I’m most concerned about flooding and sewage contaminating the drinking water supply for millions of people.” 

Sewage can get dumped into Lake Michigan when intense storms overwhelm Milwaukee’s stormwater systems. The area’s sewerage district is replacing concrete channels built in the 1960s with more natural creeks to try to prevent future flooding. 

Marquette, Michigan, spent $3 million to rebuild a shattered stretch of road 300 feet away from its increasingly unpredictable neighbor, Lake Superior. 

“Lake erosion really got the best of it,” said Dennis Stachewicz, who is planning director for the city. “Ultimately it failed because nature caught up with us.” 

But with access to so much fresh water and without the hurricanes and wildfires ravaging other parts of the country, the Great Lakes region is still considered somewhat of a climate haven. 

With the right solutions, Stachewicz said, they hope to weather the storm. “Change is occurring and we probably need to be prepared for it,” he said. 

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