Multi-Agency GIS Database and Planning Tool for Minnesota's Lake Superior Shoreline
Lake Superior Shoreline, MN

Grantee: Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
Basin Program Funds: $20,800
Non-federal Funds: $20,672
Project Duration: 07/1999 - 06/2000
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Nonpoint source pollution is one of the major factors affecting water quality in Lake Superior. Best management practices have been developed to address the specific problems along Lake Superior’s north shore. Despite active promotion, many miles of erodible shoreline are in need of stabilization to improve nearshore water quality. There is a need to coordinate and focus government programs in order to make the most effective use of limited funding and staff time.

GIS display of North Shore Contour Extents

Erosion and runoff from failing septic systems are the primary sources of nonpoint source pollution along Minnesota’s Lake Superior shore. Tourism and development are increasing rapidly in this area, significantly escalating activities that impact shoreline stability. Sedimentation is of particular concern along the north shore. Red clay and silt deposits are highly erosive and substantially degrade the nearshore water quality and aquatic habitat when they enter the water. Red clay, in particular, is composed of very small particles easily suspended in the water. As a result, visible plumes of suspended red clay spread offshore with even minor wave action. The clay particles settle to the bottom, blanketing the substrate and impacting fish habitat. Lakefront development has accelerated shoreline erosion in many areas by increasing and concentrating runoff and through the removal of stabilizing woody vegetation.

The Minnesota government has Lake Superior programs, but there is limited funding and staff time to implement them. Until recently, efforts have also suffered from a need for coordination and focus. The Lake Superior Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (the Association) and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BSWR) have identified upwards of 116 sites requiring some form of erosion control. With limited resources, only two to three projects can be started each year. To date, 26 projects have been completed or at least started, but over 90 sites are still in need of a best management practices. Most of these are in areas of high erosion potential.

The Association has partnered with the North Shore Management Board to develop a three-year erosion control program funded through Minnesota’s Clean Water Partnership Program. The program makes $540,000 available for assistance with shoreline erosion control projects. In order to prioritize sites eligible for the funding, technical panels have been appointed for each of the three north shore counties. The technical panels have been charged with making the most effective use of available resources. Therefore, the project team decided to develop a geographic information system (GIS) decision making tool that will enable the technical panels to prioritize sites according to criteria such as geology and soil type, vegetative cover, proximity to prime fishery habitat, and land use.

The various agencies with responsibility for land use and/or water quality along the north shore collaborated on the project. Participating agencies included BWSR; the Association; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties; and the North Shore Management Board. Representatives of these groups met to establish project goals, discuss application of the proposed GIS planning tool, and identify existing data for the project. The group focused on how the tool could be made most useful in as many natural resource planning venues as possible.

The project team selected a GIS consultant who collected and reviewed the identified data sets. The consultant used the data sets to prepare master CDs for each involved agency. The project team hosted a workshop to demonstrate the product and its application. The team described the extent of data sets and their coverage, demonstrated how to access the various data layers, and determined what additional layers would add to the product’s usefulness.

Erosion map along the North Shore

Given that the product has just been released, it is still too early to quanitfy its success. However, the South St. Louis Conservation District, as well as BWSR’s lakeshore engineer, have already used the tool to prioritize future work. Project personnel hope that the other two districts, as well as the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, will adopt the tool for spring projects.

The Great Lakes Basin Program funds have leveraged more than $20,670 over the life of the project from non-federal sources.

Contact: Gene Clark, (218) 723-4752


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