Lake levels sinking to new lows
Written by The Detroit News   
Sunday, 10 February 2008 14:29

The next few months will be crucial for Michigan boaters hoping to see a rise in Great Lakes levels -- levels that have been in a slump for the last few years.

The most recent statistics provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show only Lake Superior is above the level posted 12 months ago, by 8 inches. The rest of the Great Lakes, as well as Lake St. Clair, are beneath last year's levels. And all of the lakes are below their historical averages.


It will take large amounts of snow and rainfall in the remaining months of winter and spring to bring the water back to where it used to be. This is the first look at projected lake levels through the summer and peak boating season.


For Brad Adams there are few things uglier than the 100-foot wall of vegetation that has cropped up between the beach at his property in Forestville, on Lake Huron in Michigan's Thumb. Low water levels have allowed sunlight to penetrate to the bottom of the lake near the shore, spurring the growth of phragmites.


"We used to have a portable dock," said Adams, a retired AAA agent. "Now, there's no way you can even get a boat close to shore."


Boaters in many parts of the Great Lakes Basin have had to adapt to lower levels that they hope are just part of a cycle. In places like Harrison Township, residents who once had access to Lake St. Clair on their own property or through canals now must keep their boats at nearby marinas. Experts, however, say a late-winter and spring with large amounts of rainfall could go a long way toward getting the lakes closer to their historical levels.


"Each lake has its annual variations," said Keith W. Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit office. "They start out with their lowest levels in late winter and rise through the spring. We've been through periods in the past where we've spent years above the historical levels. Right now, we've been below those levels for the last few years."


So far in 2008, Mother Nature appears to be doing her part.


"This wet January did help to push lakes Michigan and Huron higher than where we thought it was," he said. "Considering that we are still expecting a fairly wet February things could still improve."


The most recent figures, through January, show:

• The Lake Michigan/Huron system is down between 10 and 11 inches.

• Lake Erie is down 15 inches from last year.

• Lake Ontario is down 17 inches from last year.

• And Lake St. Clair, not considered a "Great Lake," is also down 11 inches from last year.


The drop is the result of decreased precipitation and snow accumulation in recent years. The snowpack is the main recharging element for Superior and Huron. When the snows melt, they regularly bring the lake levels back up.


The U.S. Army Corps makes six-month projections on where the lake levels will be. By July, forecasters predict Lake Michigan/Huron will be 20 to 22 inches below their historical averages. Lake St. Clair will be within 5 to 12 inches of its all-time average and Erie will be within 2 to 9 inches, as will Superior.


Lake Ontario should fare the best, coming within "a few inches" of its historical levels. That's something many residents would like to see more of.

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