Great Lakes Region

Current projects | Completed projects

The Great Lakes’ 10,000-plus miles of coastline provide millions of beachgoers with recreational opportunities, support 158 coastal counties, and serve as an economic engine for the region. Unfortunately, this coastline, including its beaches, watersheds, and nearshore waters, is highly vulnerable to pollution. Excessive nutrient loading, agricultural and stormwater runoff, industrial pollution, and wildlife waste all degrade water quality. Bacteria and other pathogens can threaten both human health and the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. For this reason, the GLRI Action Plan III has identified nearshore health and protection of watersheds from polluted runoff as one of five issues requiring urgent attention.

Read on to learn about NOAA’s work in this Focus Area:

Decision Support Tools for Nutrients and Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Residents and tourists alike are drawn to Great Lakes beaches, nearshore waters, and tributaries.  Unfortunately, these waters and shorelines can experience  growth of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), which are fueled by Phosphorus (P) loadings from the watershed, and which can be detrimental to water quality and human health.  GLRI funds have helped NOAA to monitor phosphorus loading and develop models that forecast the locations of HABs, in turn giving resource managers the tools to make more timely actions to protect human health.  This includes the Experimental Lake Erie HAB Bulletin and the HAB Tracker.

NOAA contact:


Empowering Communities with Online Action Planning Tools: Tipping Points and Indicators for Improving Water Quality Across the Great Lakes

GLRI funds are supporting a collaboration among NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), and multiple Great Lakes universities to identify “tipping points” of ecosystem health.  Scientific research has identified the stressors that multiple Great Lakes resources, ranging from watersheds to high-priority fish species, can withstand and remain functional.  Beyond these thresholds, or “tipping points,” ecosystem function is severely impaired.  This project provides science-based indicators to strengthen Great Lakes decision making and management. It provides coastal land use planners and managers with the information and tools they need to develop policies, ordnances, land protection programs, and restoration priorities that preserve the Great Lakes ecosystem for generations to come.

NOAA contacts: and

Piloting Green Infrastructure Best Management Practices at Clean Marinas in the Western Lake Erie Basin

Michigan Sea Grant and Ohio Sea Grant, the co-leaders of the Great Lakes Clean Marina Network, are developing an interactive decision support tool complete with 3-D renderings and 360 video as part of the existing Ideal Clean Marina visualization map. This tool will help marinas and the Great Lakes state Clean Marina Program staff prioritize green infrastructure for current and future scenarios.

Contact: Catherine Riseng, Michigan Sea Grant,


Role of Dreissenid Mussels in Transforming Nutrient Loads Into Harmful Algal Blooms

This project is using a combination of field surveys (to assess dreissenid mussel abundance, seasonal condition and growth), and lab experiments (to measure mussel feeding and nutrient excretion rates) to determine the impact of mussels in transforming nutrient loads into harmful algal blooms.

Contact: Henry Vanderploeg,


Runoff Risk Decision Support

The runoff risk concept was initiated by state request to meet state agency and farmer/producer needs for real-time actionable guidance on when to not apply nutrients to agricultural fields. Relying on National Weather Service (NWS) modeling, runoff risk tools inform farming managers of unfavorable forecast conditions where runoff could transport freshly applied nutrients off fields and into nearby waterbodies. Edge-of-field monitoring has indicated that application timing is an important factor on water quality. Following runoff risk guidance could provide both economic and environmental benefits. There are currently runoff risk tools operational in four states: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The current runoff risk tools can be easily found by visiting this link:, which has a shortcut to each state website. In the fall of 2019 the development of runoff risk version 3 began. This will produce runoff risk from the NWS National Water Model (NWM) which will allow higher resolution models utilizing NWS supercomputing facilities. This will also open the opportunity for states outside the Great Lakes footprint to partner with the NWS for runoff risk tools in their areas.

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