Great Lakes Projects

Planning for Climate Change in Habitat Restoration


Black River slag 

The National Wildlife Federation is partnering with NOAA’s Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Program and EcoAdapt to include climate change in the design and implementation of Great Lakes restoration projects. Past use of the Great Lakes has degraded the ecosystem's water quality, biological diversity, and productivity. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a major effort to restore the vitality of the Great Lakes. 

NWF and our partners are making sure that Great Lakes restoration projects are climate-smart. 

If restoration projects do not consider the impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes, they are less likely to endure over the long-term and be self-sustaining. 

Learn more:  Black River, Buffalo River, Clinton River Spillway, Crow Island, Maumee Bay, Muskegon Lake, St. Marys River

Black River Habitat Restoration Lorain, OH

Project Partners: NOAA, National Wildlife Federation, EcoAdapt, Coldwater Consulting LLC, ARCADIS- US, Inc, City of Lorain, USFWS

This project designs the restoration of 1,200 to 1,600 linear feet of stream bank and 4 to 7 acres of riparian habitat along the Lower Black River. The site, located in a highly industrialized area, was previously part of a steel mill and is buried in slag (a by-product of steel production).  Some areas along the river are contaminated and lack suitable aquatic habitat.

Black River

Restoration will involve grading, construction of in-stream habitat features and fish shelves and planting of native vegetation.  The design will include consideration of how climate change impacts like heavier rainfall and more severe drought will affect water levels and stream flows. The project partners will conduct a climate change vulnerability assessment for riparian habitat on the site and will use assessment results to develop appropriate climate change response strategies. Designing the project to endure stream flows of increased magnitude and variability will enhance long-term restoration success and improve the quality of the aquatic ecosystem.

Results will be incorporated into other components of the local broad-scale restoration efforts that are proposed and underway.  Additional partners in the broad-scale restoration include the Ohio EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lorain County, Lorain Port Authority, Black River Remedial Action Plan, and the Lorain Growth Corporation.  Funding sources include the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and an Ohio EPA Supplemental Environmental Project.

Riparian Restoration in the Buffalo River Area of Concern
Buffalo, NY

Project partners: NOAA, NWF, EcoAdapt, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, and a host of local stakeholders.

This project covers the creation of design and engineering specifications for the restoration of 1,520 feet of shoreline along the Buffalo River, as well as 3.5 acres of upland and riparian habitat. The area formerly housed steel- and coke-making facilities that have left a legacy of contaminated sediment and large debris both on land and in the river. As the federally-designated Buffalo Remedial Action Plan coordinator, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is developing this project in coordination with a suite of other in-river, shoreline, and upland restoration efforts, leveraging the value of individual projects to contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

Conceptual restoration methods and practices identified for this site include anchoring woody debris for in-water structure, stabilization, and enhancing sediment deposition on the shoreline;  slope regrading to increase stability and expand shallow aquatic habitat; removing invasive plant species and shoreline debris; and enhancing tree cover. To succeed, shoreline and in-river efforts will need to account for both seasonal and year-to-year variability in water levels typical of the region and changes likely to result from climate change, such as a long-term drop in average water levels and an increase in heavy rain events. Selection of tree species for restoration will also consider future climate conditions, supporting the ability of the restoration site to thrive in the long term.

Clinton River Spillway Habitat Restoration Planning & Design Macomb County, MI

Project partners: NOAA, NWF, EcoAdapt, Macomb County Public Works Office, Hubbell, Roth, & Clark, Inc., Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Clinton River Watershed Council.

Clinton River Spillway Weir

This project will enhance aquatic habitat and associated recreational opportunities along the Clinton River Spillway in Macomb County, MI. The project site is 192 acres (including 130 upland acres) along the Clinton River in Mount Clemens and along the spillway as it travels towards the shore of Lake St. Clair.  The spillway contains a 216-foot wide fixed crest concrete weir and downstream channel and was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1949 to alleviate flooding in up-river communities.

While the spillway has reduced flooding, it has also created environmental problems.  These include blocked fish passage, excessive bank erosion and sedimentation, and encroachment of invasive species. Such problems are made worse by altered hydrology associated with upstream development as well as changing climatic conditions, including heavy downpours/runoff events and extreme low flows/warmer waters during droughts.

This project will improve habitat conditions for fish and benthic species by promoting regenerative ecological processes.  To ensure project success despite current and future climate changes, project partners will assess the vulnerability of wildlife to changes in water flow and temperature and will consider climate change when identifying vegetation for habitat restoration. Partners will also identify and enhance opportunities for the site to provide refuge for wildlife from climate impacts.

Crow Island State Game Area Marsh Enhancement Project

Project partners: Ducks Unlimited (lead), Michigan Department of Natural Resources, NOAA, National Wildlife Federation.

Photo of Great Lakes restoration

The Crow Island State Game Area is a complex of wetlands and fields straddling the Saginaw River near Saginaw, MI . Historically, these marshes have been important waterfowl habitat, though much was degraded or lost to agriculture and other uses (e.g. fur farming) by the early 20th Century.  Restoration efforts began when the state purchased the land in 1953 and today approximately 3,500 acres is managed by Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The area is popular for hunting, fishing, birding, and other activities and it is an important stopover site for migratory birds. 

Restoration will occur on both the east and west sides of the river at the site and will focus on improving water level management to better address threats such as invasive plants and impacts of a changing climate.  On the east side, this work is funding design work to install new culverts and replace a failing pump that is the sole source of water to 1,250 acres of wetlands . Project partners have also explored options for wetland enhancement on the west side of the river, where wetlands  rely upon precipitation and Saginaw Bay and wind events pushing river water upstream for water.  The potential for altered water supply with climate change (such as drier and wetter periods, and shifting of prevailing wind directions) has led to consideration of other options for more reliable water supply for the west side units, and consideration of design changes (e.g. in pump depth) for the east side.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Restoration in Maumee Bay Area of Concern Benton Township, OH

Project partners: NOAA, NWF, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, USFWS, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Maumee Bay

This project will restore 600 acres of wetland, forest, rivers and sedge meadow for one of the largest migratory landbird habitats in the country. The project site, which is adjacent to Lake Erie and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, is currently fallow agricultural land.  Many nutrients from fertilizers and pest control chemicals remain on and around the site, making it less desirable habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. Restoration will create areas for fish passage, replant forests, rehabilitate wetlands and control harmful invasive species. The restored habitat will also provide places for visitors to view wildlife like the American black duck, blue-winged teal, king rail, wood thrust, and the Blanding’s turtle.

Project partners are using a vulnerability assessment to determine how much climate change is affecting the site through heavier rainfall, warmer air temperatures, and other impacts.   Partners are using this information to pick the types of trees to plant on the site and choose appropriate water control measures. Designing restoration projects to deal climate change will ensure long-term health and viability of the ecosystem.

Muskegon Lake Restoration Project

Project partners: West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (lead), Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Great Lakes Commission, NWF

Mill Debris

A new design and engineering project to restore habitat is taking shape in the Muskegon Lake (MI) Area of Concern (AOC), a 4,150 acre drowned river mouth lake connected to Lake Michigan. Though restoration efforts have been underway for several years, the area still faces several challenges, including loss of fish and wildlife habitat, degraded fish and wildlife populations, and, in the Bear Lake area, eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) and undesirable algae. Design and engineering efforts in the new project will be carried out for two sites. The first effort will remove debris at the Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Site, a shallow 40-acre littoral area along the southern portion of the lake containing significant debris, mainly sawmill slabwood and sawdust from historic operations (see first photo). Debris removal will contribute to broader restoration goals in the area, including restoring a mosaic of emergent and open water wetlands.

The second effort involves hydrologic connection and wetland restoration at a site upstream of Bear Lake, a moderate to highly eutrophic lake that feeds into Muskegon Lake. The 43-acre project site, formerly a celery farm, is now a degraded, diked wetland and portions of the area have been converted to shallow ponds (see second photo).  The project will involve designing hydrologic reconnection of the wetland complex to Bear Creek and Bear Lake (through removal of over ½ mile of dike), with the goals of improving habitat and fish and wildlife connectivity. Sediment analysis of the wetlands for nutrients will help identify the potential for enhanced phosphorus loadings to the creek and lake following restoration. Preliminary discussions indicate that this second restoration effort will be vulnerable to climate change. More intense storm events and/or higher water levels could enhance phosphorus transport out of the restored wetland site.  Factors like these will be considered in near-term monitoring and restoration design plans to increase the likelihood of meeting both fish and wildlife habitat and water quality restoration objectives.

Little Rapids Habitat Restoration St. Marys River, Sault Ste Marie, MI

Project partners: NOAA, NWF, EcoAdapt, Eastern U.P. Regional Planning & Development Commission, Lake Superior State University (LSSU), LSSU Aquatic Research Lab, Great Lakes Commission, Michigan Department of National Resources, St. Marys Bi-National Public Advisory Council, Chippewa/Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, URS Corporation

St Mary's River

This project will complete all pre-construction tasks necessary for restoring the Little Rapids within the St. Marys River Area of Concern. Restoring the Little Rapids will enhance an important fishery in the Great Lakes by providing increased foraging, spawning, and nursery habitat for fish species such as trout, salmon, walleye, and whitefish. The river suffers from years of dredging, filling, and pollution, and the Little Rapids site is the only remaining historical rapids that can be reasonably restored.

The project has five main parts:

  • Hydraulic Flow Modeling to assess what effects the project will have on navigation and ice formation in the St. Marys River.
  • Engineering Design to modify the Sugar Island Causeway to restore flow to the Little Rapids and allow for fish passage.
  • An Environmental Assessment to examine the effects the project will have on the surrounding environment.
  • Environmental Monitoring to look at physical and biological aspects of the project before, during, and after implementation. Monitoring will make sure that environmentally sensitive species and habitats are not harmed by any step of the project and allow us to learn from the project.
  • Outreach and Education efforts to involve the many stakeholder interests of the Little Rapids project by making sure groups like sportsmen, residents, recreational boaters, and other entities are informed engaged as the project progresses.

The Little Rapids project will look at the potential effects of climate change on the St. Marys River and, partnering with NWF, will make sure that the engineering design for the causeway modification takes into this into account. Once these phases of the project are completed, implementation could begin by spring 2013.

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