State of the Beach/State Reports/WI

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Wisconsin provides good access to the Great Lakes shoreline. The state's comprehensive beach monitoring program began in 2003. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is directing the monitoring program at the Great Lakes coastal waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The program allows for prompt public notification whenever bacteria levels exceed EPA's established criteria. It also helps communities along the lakeshore improve their ability to monitor and notify beach users of the risks associated with high bacteria levels. An inventory of erosion locations, an erosion monitoring program, and a public education program emphasizing the dangers of developing in hazardous areas would be useful additions to the state programs.

Wisconsin Ratings


(+) A huge amount of water quality information can be found on WDNR's Water Topics website.

(+) The Great Lakes Commission (GLC), in partnership with LimnoTech and the Great Lakes states, has developed a free smartphone application that provides convenient, public access to swim advisories and other environmental conditions information for more than 1,800 beaches in the Great Lakes region. The myBeachCast application (app) retrieves locational and advisory data for Great Lakes in the eight Great Lakes states. The app also features real-time and forecasted weather and lake conditions (e.g., water temperature, wave heights, wind speed/direction) and nearshore marine forecasts, drawn from the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). myBeachCast allows users to discover local beaches based on the user’s location, view beaches and their status on a map, save favorite beaches, and get driving directions. To download myBeachCast, go to

(+) In early 2011 the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts released its first comprehensive report, Wisconsin's Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation. The report will serve as a resource for business executives, government, natural resource managers, public health officials and other decision makers as they take strategic steps to preserve jobs, invest resources wisely, build resiliency and protect both the built and natural environment in the face of a changing climate.

(+) Wisconsin has a clear and organized Hazard Mitigation Plan.

(+) A great new online coastal access resource is University of Wisconsin Sea Grant's Wisconsin Coastal Guide. From this site you can click on "Beaches" and then a particular beach to get a map and for many locations a 360 degree panorama. It has been updated to include oblique photos all along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coasts.

(+) WDNR staff drove the entire coast of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, identifying 173 public beaches using global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) technologies to geo-locate each beach. County maps show the location of each beach, coastal recreation waters, points of access by the public, length of beach, and possible sources of pollution.

(+) Nearly 90% of the respondents to a coastal constituents survey feel that the issue of non-point pollution is moderately to very important, and support education for citizens and local officials.

(+) In 2003, water-quality data from about 117 new beach locations were added to the Beach Health website. Maps of beaches by county are available along with other information describing the 2003 Wisconsin Great Lake monitoring efforts. As a result, many beaches that have never been tested are now tested, and the data is available in near-real time to the public

(0) About 80% of Wisconsin's Great Lakes shoreline suffers from bluff erosion and recession problems. The 185 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline from the Illinois state line to the Sturgeon Bay Canal is particularly vulnerable to shore erosion.

(-) In March 2017 the Trump administration proposed a 97% cut in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

(-) Inflexibility by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce Plumbing Program made it very difficult for the Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center to implement a sensible program to use collected rainwater in toilets and will likely discourage others from installing similar systems.

(-) The biennial budget ending in FY2007 includes cuts to state agencies totaling $300 million, and cuts in the state agency workforce of 3,900 positions since FY2003. Coastal management has been affected directly by cuts to DNR programs that manage water resources, and overall reductions in the state government workforce. Two positions have been eliminated in the Coastal Management program since 2001.

(-) The state has no formal programs for monitoring shoreline recession or bluff erosion.

(-) The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) reported an estimated 346,000-gallon sewage spill into the Milwaukee River and Fish Creek in early April 2006. Both flow into Lake Michigan. During the period from 2000 to 2006, MMSD dumped 6.4 billion gallons of sewage or sewage diluted with stormwater runoff into the lake or into streams that drain to the lake.


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State of the Beach Report: Wisconsin
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