Nature Based Solutions in the Great Lakes

Engineering & design plans for habitat restoration

Photo of a Great Lakes coastal ecosystem. Photo Credit: LimnoTech

Photo of a Great Lakes coastal ecosystem. Photo Credit: LimnoTech


NOAA Office for Coastal Management (Great Lakes Region), Great Lakes Coastal Zone Management programs, and a variety of federal, state, local and tribal partners who are interested in developing designs for habitat restoration in the Great Lakes.

Project Leads

Coastal States Organization, along with a contracted design team. The design team so far has included RESPEC, LimnoTech, SEH, GZA, SmithGroup, and  Drummond  Carpenter.

Programmatic Framework

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan III, Focus Area IV.






2023 & beyond


The project is ongoing, and continues to be cyclical, iterative, and adaptively managed. We believe that projects should mirror the habitats that we work in – being dynamic and honoring the cycles of change.

Each year, we develop designs for 3-4 habitat restoration projects in the Great Lakes with an eye towards nature based solutions that center equitable co-benefits.

Region of Focus

Great Lakes coastal watershed

Map of Great Lakes watershed

Map of Great Lakes watershed by The Nature Conservancy and Erb Family Foundation. Learn more about their work here.

Project Goal

To restore coastal and nearshore habitats in the Great Lakes through the lens climate hazard resilience, ecological diversity, community benefits and cultural cohesion.

Sticky notes describing project goals of working with nature and flexible, adaptive management

Sticky notes describing project goals during the project scoping workshops in 2019. Photo Credit: LimnoTech

Project Objectives

This initiative takes habitat restoration projects into the schematic and conceptual design phase.

We contract with design teams who provide state and local partners with data, modelling, engineering expertise, and consensus-based facilitation services to decide on what approach would work best for a site.





Nature Based



Project Beneficiaries

This design initiative allows our state coastal management programs and their partners to have design blueprints ready in hand to seek funding for permitting and construction.

We designed the project to provide additional capacity to Great Lakes state coastal management programs. Through their network, this project benefits their local partners and ultimately the Great Lakes coastal ecosystem.

Design deliverables

LiDAR data showcasing elevation around the Peshtigo River

Typically, we develop 60-80% engineering and design plans for each project site accompanied by a report that outlines considerations for taking these designs to full completion.

Depending on the site, some design packages come with renderings to help visualize the nature based solution in the context of the larger landscape.

Other design packages include data and models that help inform further decision making about each project site.

Image on the left: Example of a data product developed as part of engineering and design for a biostabilization project along the Peshtigo River in Wisconsin. Photo Credit: SmithGroup


Project Outcomes

List of prioritized projects

In 2019, with the help of LimnoTech and RESPEC, we convened partners from across the Great Lakes states at regional workshops.  Together, we identified a list of 31 prioritized coastal and nearshore habitat restoration projects across the eight Great Lakes states.

Map of Prioritized Projects from All Eight Great Lakes State Workshops

Map of Prioritized Projects from all Eight Great Lakes State Workshops. Developed by LimnoTech

Taking projects from concept to design

Starting from 2020, we worked with partners along eight sites in the Great Lakes coastal watershed to develop engineering and design blue prints for habitat restoration.

Explore the projects by looking through the tabs. More information about each project, lessons learned, and best practices gleaned from implementing nature based solutions will be shared soon!

Fish Habitat Reconnection Sawmill Creek (MN)

The designs focused on culvert replacement within the Sawmill Creek watershed to improve fish habitat and connectivity in river systems. Engineering plans led to geomorphic re-sizing of in-channel and floodplain openings at road/river intersections in Minnesota.

The project focused on restoring habitat connectivity to cold-water refuges for brook trout populations while supporting existing coordinated efforts for long-term watershed restoration.

Tifft Nature Preserve Aquatic Habitat Enhancement (NY)

Tifft Nature Preserve is a 264-acre natural area in Buffalo, NY that is owned by the City of Buffalo and managed by the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. It includes a 75-acre remnant cattail marsh, one of the largest in the Lake Erie coastal region.

Designs focused on cattail management and habitat diversification, shoreline softening, and invasive species management. The project was aimed at restoring and enhancing wetland habitat quality within the Preserve and enhance habitat for a wide variety of marsh birds, migratory songbirds, and fish.

Lake Erie Prime Fish Spawning Habitat (PA)

The Lake Erie nearshore zone east of Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle peninsula attracts lake trout and is a prime spawning ground. The goal of this project is to collaborate with project partners to develop designs for spawning habitat improvements of about 10 acres.

In additional to the target species, lake trout, additional benefits are anticipated for walleye, perch, and other native species that use shoals, reefs, and other nearshore habitats in the project area.

Learn more about the project here.

Peshtigo River Streambank Stabilization & Habitat Enhancement (WI)

This project is an opportunity to enhance and improve ecosystem benefits by reducing sediment loading through stabilization of rapidly eroding streambanks, and improving spawning and rearing habitat for game and nongame fish species, including sensitive and threatened species.

The design, engineering, and installation of bioengineered solutions will serve to highlight the benefits of this approach to a local, state, and federal stakeholder audience comprised of agencies, public entities, NGOs, and other interest groups.

Learn more about the project here

Fish Habitat Reconnection Tischer Creek (MN)

The designs focused on culvert replacement within the Tischer Creek watershed to improve fish habitat and connectivity in river systems. Engineering plans led to geomorphic re-sizing of in-channel and floodplain openings at road/river intersections in Minnesota.

The project focused on restoring habitat connectivity to cold-water refuges for brook trout populations while supporting existing coordinated efforts for long-term watershed restoration.

Sodus Bay Shaker Tract Wetland Rehabilitation (NY)

This project is designed to restore and enhance habitat quality within a 42-acre wetland in the Shaker Tract unit of the Lake Shore Marshes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Sodus Bay (south of Sawmill Cove Bay)

Designs focused on four potholes to create muskrat habitat and diversify the plant community within the project area (3.47 acres total); and the development of an invasive species management plan for buckthorn within a designated invasive species management zone (0.38 acres total).

The project is expected to improve plant diversity within the wetland, improve wildlife habitat for muskrat, a keystone species, and promote native plants over invasive species within the wetland

Niagara River Shoreline & Aquatic Habitat Restoration (NY)

The West River Shoreline Trail/Niagara River Shoreline & Aquatic Habitat Restoration project focuses on three sites on the west shoreline of Grand Island, within the west channel of the Niagara River.

The project goal for all three sites was to restore shoreline function and habitat by reducing bank erosion and sediment wash into the river. Ancillary benefits of the project will introduce native plants to benefit migratory birds and structures for spawning fish in the river.

Learn more about the project here.

Pentwater River Drowned River Mouth Habitat Restoration (MI)

The project at Big Sandy Bend will provide riverbank stabilization and protection from the negative impacts of downstream sedimentation within the coastal wetlands and floodplain habitat of the Pentwater Marsh.

Measures used to protect the slope will also allow for improvement in riverine habitat. This included soft engineering solutions along Big Sandy Bend that provided bank stabilization and ancillary benefits to fish and wildlife, enhanced native vegetative cover and diversity, and improved Pentwater Marsh health as sedimentation from the Big Sandy Bend site decreases.

Here is an example of a design product. SmithGroup created a design rendering for the Lake Erie trout spawning project in Pennsylvania.

This rendering shows what the designs would look like in real life once it is constructed. Notice the underwater reefs with interstitial spaces sized adequately for trout spawning.

Pennsylvania Design Rendering - Underwater reefs with interstitial spaces for trout spawning

More to come!

Here is a sneak peek at the projects we are working on this year!

Little Calumet River | Lake Michigan | Indiana

Little Calumet River-Marshalltown Marsh-MLK North Wetland Complex. Nearshore Emergent Marsh and Stream Corridor Restoration.


Lower Lake Michigan, Lake County, Indiana, Little Calumet River-Marshalltown Marsh-MLK Wetland Complex, 


The restoration of degraded hemi-marsh wetland, nearshore, and riverine floodplain habitat in a heavily developed/impacted wetland near the south shore of Lake Michigan, improving nursery habitat, cover, and forage for fish, herps, waterfowl, secretive marsh birds and invertebrates.


Assess existing site conditions and identify restoration opportunities to improve fish, wildlife and avian habitat within portions of the Little Calumet River MLK North, and Marshalltown Marsh complex. 

Develop E&D plans for improving and enhancing a 1.5 mile segment of the LCR with improved fish passage, re-meandering and re-alignment with the historic river channel, provide a reduction in sedimentation, improved channel design and instream/riparian, and emergent hemi-marsh habitat reestablishment/enhancement.

Lake Superior | Wisconsin
Dwight’s Point and Pokegama Wetlands State Natural Area Resiliency Project


City of Superior Municipal Forest – Dwight’s Point and Pokegama Wetlands State Natural Area, Wisconsin. 


To minimize erosion at culverts, prevent sediment from being added into wetland systems including Kimballs Bay and the St. Louis River Estuary, improve water quality, ensure connectivity, and protect wetland and upland habitat at, and near, culverts. 

Three culverts will be targeted in the Dwight’s Point and Pokegama Wetlands State Natural Area at the Billings Drive crossing where the stream enters Kimballs Bay and the St. Louis River.  


Develop 60-80% engineering and design plans to enhance wetland crossings with sustainable and resilient designs that incorporate climate adaptive strategies and support connectivity for aquatic species. 

Provide habitat enhancement strategies and water quality improvement strategies for the sub-watershed area connected to the crossing. Habitat enhancement to include consideration of upland and wetland plantings or other strategy designs to improve water quality within Kimball’s bay. 

Support cultural regeneration of the site by including strategies to pave the way for future wild rice restoration, pending formal approval of plans.

Develop a management plan to monitor designed practices and enhancements to maintain long-term function and sustainability.

St. Louis River Watershed | Minnesota
Slaughterhouse Creek & Hay Creek Brook Trout Habitat Reconnection

Location: Lake Superior St Louis River Watershed-  Slaughterhouse Creek & Hay Creek in Carlton County Minnesota 


To restore streambank and to reconnect brook trout habitat in Slaughterhouse Creek & Hay Creek. 


Develop engineering and design plans for stream restoration and stream meandering to restore brook trout habitat connectivity. 

Goal 1: Develop  engineering and design plans  to replace undersized culverts to enable the reconnection of streams and tributaries to benefit aquatic life, improve water quality, and accommodate the changing floodplain. 

Goal 2: Assess feasibility of meandering through H&H modeling. It is anticipated that H&H modeling will provide some options for re-meandering.

Goal 3: Develop ADA compliant public access enhancement strategies.

Looking further out

Do you have a project in the Great Lakes for which you are looking for engineering and design assistance?  We will be conducting workshops where we will connect you with your state coastal zone management programs to develop and scope project ideas in 2024.

E-mail to receive more information about this process! Please note that projects need to be on public property (or properties accessible to the public).


Want to learn more? E-mail Vidya Balasubramanyam at