Upward Bound

Ladders won’t likely be needed this boating season in replenished lake waters statewide. // Photography Courtesy of Thinkstock/Michael Smith
Water Levels

There’s nothing like a summer day at the beach, whether you’re basking in sunshine on a Great Lakes shoreline or strolling alongside one of Michigan’s inland lakes. But cottage dwellers and lakeside homeowners are likely to see less of those golden sands this summer.

Winter snows dumped trillions of gallons of water on the Great Lakes region this year, which helped replenish lakes, marshes and aquifers. It was the second consecutive year that precipitation events worked to reverse a long-term downward trend.

Hydrologists say Lake Michigan/Huron water levels dropped to an all-time record low of 576.02 feet above sea level in January of 2013, a level not seen since 1918. Then heavy spring rains began to bring those levels up, while cooler fall lake temperatures helped reduce the amount of water lost by evaporation. The 2014 Polar Vortex became a game changer.

“When Mother Nature changes her mind and brings rain and snow like this year and last year, she can take care of water levels in a hurry,” says Mark Torregrossa, MLive meteorologist and owner of farmerweather.com. “The next one to two years we should have normal water for our time frame: living in Michigan back to the 1900s. If lakes do come back up to their long-term averages, people will have an average amount of beach. Inland lakes will have more water too.”

Keith Kompoltowicz predicts that Lake Michigan-Huron water levels will be 14 inches higher than in 2013, at least early on. Levels will drop by late summer, but remain eight inches higher. Kompoltowicz is the chief of Great Lakes Watershed Hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lake Superior, he notes, will be 13 inches higher and drop to two inches above last year. Much depends on spring and summer rains.

“It’s safe to say that through the summer water levels of the Great Lakes will remain well above where they were a year ago,” Kompoltowicz shares. “We had snow on the ground in March and April of 2013 and then got four inches to six inches of rain in April across the Great Lakes Basin. This year we’ve had much more snow. There was six to 12 inches of water contained in the snowpack. That will be the largest part of the season rise.”

Lakefront property owners may see drastically different effects depending on the location of their property. The effects may be more obvious in long, shallow bays; less so in deeper harbors and bays.

“On shallow-grade areas like Saginaw Bay, people are going to see substantially more water rather than bottom land,” Kompoltowicz says. “Marina owners might even be able to rent out or sell all of their allotted space and boaters may not need to climb down a ladder to get to their boats.”

Learn More

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed an online Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard that presents water levels over time. The interactive site allows viewers to change measures and even compare what’s happening today to long-term averages for each.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides weekly water level reports for each of the Great Lakes. The web page provides a brief discussion of Weather Conditions, Lake Level Conditions, Channel Conditions and any Alerts.

Award-winning writer and BLUE Undercurrents columnist Howard Meyerson resides in Grand Rapids.

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