Great Lakes
Vehicles travel on a nearly flooded bridge on county Road LS near county Road EE, Thursday, August 6, 1998, in Sheboygan, Wis. (FILE PHOTO) Gary C. Klein/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

WI - Lake Michigan levels could lead to more flooding and erosion in the future. Here's how Sheboygan is preparing for rising waters.

SHEBOYGAN – Sheboygan has spent millions of dollars to prevent a disaster as devastating as the flood of 1998.But with Lake Michigan water levels expected to rise and continue to undergo extreme fluctuations, the City of Sheboygan and a regional research group are preparing additional planning and projects to address a future with more flooding and erosion.

These combined efforts include conducting a two-year project to assess flood disaster preparation as well as spending millions more on a shoreline restoration project.

Preparing for flood disasters

Lake Michigan’s average water levels rose 6 feet between January 2013 and November 2019, and nearly 2 feet between January and July 2019, according to the National Weather Service.

The lake reached a record high levels in 2020 before falling about 3 feet over the last two years, according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Water levels are expected to continue fluctuating, reaching higher highs as well as lower lows in the future because Lake Michigan and the climate have become more volatile, said Jackson Parr, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute staff member.

High Lake Michigan levels has eroded the area near North Point along Broughton Drive, Monday, May 18, 2020, in Sheboygan, Wis.
High Lake water levels in Lake Michigan are causing erosion along Sheboygan shoreline. Photo by Gary C. Klien, USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

Through the Wisconsin Sea Grant, Parr is working with staff at the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission and Wisconsin Emergency Management to examine flood preparedness of nine northeastern Wisconsin cities on Lake Michigan’s shore, including Sheboygan.  

The project will consist of three components: an independent flood vulnerability assessment, an extreme-event simulation and a resiliency scorecard.  

The vulnerability assessment will pinpoint areas in Sheboygan that are most susceptible to flooding.

One of the research goals is to understand the interaction between rising river levels and rising water levels in Lake Michigan, Parr said, because many shoreline cities have rivers running through them, making them more likely to flood.  

The extreme-event simulation, which will be focused on next summer, is a disaster scenario created by the National Academy of Sciences that will bring together local officials and emergency services in Sheboygan and present them with a flood event based on the vulnerability assessment.  

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