Climate Change Adaptation on the Front Burner in the Great Lakes Region According to New EcoAdapt Survey

By Rachel M. Gregg 

Climate change may have been placed on the back burner during the presidential debates, but it is a hot topic of conversation – and action – in the Great Lakes!

The region’s freshwater resources are experiencing climate-induced changes in temperature, precipitation, lake level, and water chemistry that are affecting human communities and natural environments; these effects are expected to magnify in coming years. Managers, planners, and decision makers are tasked with the challenge of developing strategies to prepare for and respond to a changing climate; these strategies and actions are classified as “adaptation.”

To develop a better understanding of how people in the Great Lakes are engaging in climate change adaptation and to support others who want to learn from these examples, EcoAdapt expanded their State of Adaptation survey to include the freshwater resources of the region. Through interviews and surveys with regional practitioners, EcoAdapt developed a synthesis report, The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region. This synthesis provides:
·         A summary of key regional climate change impacts;
·         Examples of over 100 adaptation initiatives from the region, focusing on activities in the natural and built environments as they relate to freshwater resources;
·         Fifty-seven case studies, detailing how adaptation is taking shape (see examples on 2nd page of this release); and
·         An overview of challenges and opportunities for freshwater adaptation in the Great Lakes region.
The majority of adaptation activities in the region focus on building capacity to address climate change, including improving understanding and awareness, acquiring and developing resources and tools, and establishing collaborative partnerships. Important next steps for advancing adaptation in the Great Lakes region are to increase information exchange, encourage planning and integration across political boundaries, implement adaptation plans and strategies, and evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken.

Products generated from this project, including case studies, will be shared through another EcoAdapt project, the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE; The synthesis report and case studies provide useful information on climate change adaptation in the Great Lakes for both novice and experienced practitioners within or beyond the region’s borders to apply to their own work. Readers can learn about different types of adaptation strategies, find real world examples of how others in similar disciplines or regions are incorporating climate change into their work, and locate the people and tools needed to help move their adaptation efforts forward. CAKE also provides the opportunity for users to join and engage in a community of practice where they can share their own case studies, tools, resources, and lessons learned.

To learn more about the State of Adaptation Program and this project, visit the project page. To join the CAKE community and learn more about climate adaptation, visit

What does adaptation look like in the Great Lakes?

Real people are doing real things to meet the challenges of climate change to the Great Lakes Region. Here are a few examples of what’s afoot:

Example 1: The Minnehaha Creek Watershed Stormwater Adaptation Study
Where: Minneapolis and Victoria, Minnesota, USA
Who: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
Why: Storms in the state have become more frequent and intense in recent years and these events are overwhelming the region’s stormwater management systems. Recent flooding events in cities such as Duluth have increased the need for climate-smart water resource management approaches to reduce the risk of infrastructure and property damage, pollution, and habitat loss.
How: Project partners are engaged in a stakeholder-driven process to evaluate existing stormwater systems, identify vulnerabilities, and develop adaptation plans to increase resilience.

Example 2: The Community Adaptation Initiative
Where: Ontario, Canada
Who: The Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR), Clean Air Partnership, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Why: Climate change impacts in Ontario include increasing air temperatures, more extreme precipitation events, and decreasing lake levels, among others, that are affecting community health, resources, and economic well-being.
How: This outreach project is designed to increase public understanding and awareness to climate change in order to spur action. The partners have created five case studies of municipal adaptation activities in the province and a series of fact sheets on adaptation. In addition, they are hosting training and planning workshops to build community capacity for adaptation and develop climate-smart communities.