LakeDance & Watershed Collective discusses rising lake, emergency plans


Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Lake Michigan in November. According to Stefanie Levine, Lake Michigan’s water levels have risen six feet in the past three years and are near historic highs.

Nick Francis, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Chicago’s LakeDance & Watershed Collective hosted a webinar Wednesday detailing the rise of Lake Michigan’s water levels and its ensuing impacts on local beaches.

According to Stefanie Levine, senior project manager for the Public Works Agency, Lake Michigan’s water levels have risen six feet in the past three years and are near historic highs. This has caused damage to existing coastline protective infrastructure and eroded beaches.

Lawrence Hemingway, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said North Chicago, Glencoe, Lake Bluff and Evanston are partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers to apply for a dredging coastline restoration project. The project will dredge inland sand from quarries to restore the coastlines now under the water level, said Hemingway, who is also a member of the Illinois Department of National Resources Sand Management Committee.

The restoration project is one of ten approved projects of this nature in the nation and the four municipalities comprise the only coalition undertaking it on Lake Michigan’s shores.

In order to ensure the project moves forward safely, Hemingway said the four communities are hiring GEI Consultants, an independent firm, to serve as the liaison between the Army Corps of Engineers and the restoration commission. They also plan to guarantee dredging sand would be ecologically appropriate and match Lake Michigan’s natural landscape.

“(The project’s) next steps from the four communities are to go back to the Army Corps of Engineers and ask them for a one year extension,” Hemingway said. “None of [them] are quite confident yet of the safety of the materials, so GEI needs more time.”

In the interim, Evanston is taking a more focused approach on certain beaches such as installing revetments and sandbags, both permanently and temporarily, in an effort to protect coastlines and adjacent buildings.

Levine describing the risk for potential of certain beach locations Wednesday afternoon. Each location was evaluated on a variety of factors. (Courtesy of the LakeDance & Watershed Collective)

Levine said the nearly $700,000 project furnished new revetments near at-risk buildings and installations of temporary sandbag walls along the coastlines. She also said since the transition was both quick and surprising, they chose to focus on the Greenwood and Elliot Park beaches, as well as the Sheridan Rd. Water Treatment Plant, balancing both flooding risk and the value of buildings in danger. 

However, Levine emphasized that more solutions are in the works, and the high water levels, which could last up to 15 years, will be addressed in due time.

Webinar hostess and founder of the LakeDance & Watershed Collective Clare Tallon Ruen, asked whether sandbags will stay on the beaches once permanent solutions are implemented. Levine did not have a conclusive answer.

“They’re not a permanent solution—I don’t think any of us want to see that as what the lake looks like,” she said. “Right now they’re doing a job for us, an important job for us.”

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Twitter: @nick24francis


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