GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (May 19, 2014) — It’s been a long time coming but Michiganders can finally look forward to increased lake levels this year. It’s all thanks to Mother Nature and above normal precipitation that we received this winter and spring.
Lake Michigan alone is up 12 to 14 inches according to the Army Corps of Engineers. A lengthy conversation with their Detroit office revealed the average long-term lake level is 578.81 feet above sea level. The current level is 578.32 feet. We’re close to where we should be, but the six month forecast is expected to remain below average. Keep this in mind…for each one inch Lake Michigan rises in level, that equates to 390 billion gallons of water.
We hit all time record low water levels in January 2013 (576.02 feet), so we have really come a long way since then. 40 to 50 inches of additional snowfall above normal (and don’t forget the liquid in that snow), consistent spring rains, and extensive lake ice late in to the season prevented extra evaporation from taking place. While all of this occurred, it really wasn’t until April when melting finally began and we realized the uptick in moisture out of the basin. In fact, we are 43 percent above normal in precipitation in the first 18 days of May alone. We were also 27 percent above normal in precipitation in April.
The all time high water level on Lake Michigan occurred in 1986 with flooding rains and a height of 582.35. 11 West Michigan dams failed that year! So we’re nowhere near our record high or record low, but we are much closer to the long-term average. Compared to last year all lake levels are up across the board. Lake Superior rose six inches in May breaking a 15 year consecutive run of being below average.
There are several advantages to higher water levels. Commercial vessels can now carry more cargo and make fewer trips. Perhaps the savings will get passed on to consumers. Boaters are finding conditions much easier to get in to and out of the water launching their watercraft. And fishermen may also have some new opportunities. “It gives us the opportunity to reach in to some of the places that maybe have been too shallow in the past. It’s also good for the environment and the heart of the fishery because there are more areas for the bait fish to spawn and more exposure to some of the areas up in the bayous that are feeding in to the river in general,” says Big Weenie Charter fisherman Jeremy Barber.
Changing water levels also create different priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers. Chris Schropp from the Army Corps in Grand Haven says “when we have the higher water levels we have a lot of shoreline protection projects that we would have. With the lower water levels we have issues with the harbor shoaling in faster. In short, lower water levels can potentially create more work as additional sand and silt get transported in to channels easier. That means more dredging may be needed.
You can always get more information at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory website here.