2017-07-20 / Front Page

Prediction for higher water levels

Another 5-9 inches
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


A KAYAKER, stand-up paddleboarder and a dog test the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay on Tuesday. A KAYAKER, stand-up paddleboarder and a dog test the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay on Tuesday. Above average precipitation over the Great Lakes is contributing to higher water levels in the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron basin – with levels expected to increase another 5 to 9 inches over 2016 in the months to come.

High water has scaled back beaches and limited space available for shoreline walking in some areas.

It’s also causing more work for those managing Leelanau County’s municipal marinas.

“The water levels have been going up so fast that I need to keep adjusting our launch ramp,” said Edie Aylsworth, the Village of Suttons Bay’s harbormaster.

“Of course, almost everybody appreciates higher water – we can bring deeper draft vessels farther into the marina,” Aylsworth said. “But our floating docks just keep floating higher, and we need to keep adjusting those, too.”


ZACH SMITH, a dock hand at the Suttons Bay Village Marina checks out high water levels that required him and other marina workers to adjust a launch ramp at the marina. ZACH SMITH, a dock hand at the Suttons Bay Village Marina checks out high water levels that required him and other marina workers to adjust a launch ramp at the marina. Over in Leland, harbor master Russ Dzuba said water marks etched into a breakwall at the marina during record high levels in the mid-1980s are not far from the current water level.

“I think this is happening all over Lake Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes basin this season,” Dzuba said.

He’s right about that, according to a report released this month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office of Great Lakes Hydrology in Detroit.

In June, all the Great Lakes continued their regular seasonal rise; and monthly mean water levels for all the lakes were above their June long-term average levels. Lake Michigan levels were well above levels recorded last June, but still about 16 inches below record-breaking high levels recorded in 1986.


WATER LEVELS in the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron basin continued their seasonal rise last month and will peak this month at levels well above average. Average levels are depicted by a dashed line. Recorded levels are shown with a solid line. Projected levels are shown with a dash in cross-hatching indication a range of probability. Record high water levels were recorded in 1986; record lows in 1964 WATER LEVELS in the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron basin continued their seasonal rise last month and will peak this month at levels well above average. Average levels are depicted by a dashed line. Recorded levels are shown with a solid line. Projected levels are shown with a dash in cross-hatching indication a range of probability. Record high water levels were recorded in 1986; record lows in 1964 The Lake Michigan-Huron basin was 13 inches above its long-term average for June, recorded between 1918 and 2016. The lake water was two inches higher last month than it was in June 2016.

“Over the next six months, Lake Michigan- Huron is forecasted to be five to nine inches above last year’s levels,” according to the Army Corps of Engineers report.

The lake will also be 28 to 37 inches above “chart datum” – the water level noted on nautical charts. That means larger commercial vessels plying Lake Michigan will have two or three more feet of water below their keels than their charts tell them. That, in turn, means they can carry more cargo and ride deeper, as well as enter certain ports more easily without fear of running aground.

“Not only did we get more rain last month, it also seemed a little cooler than usual – and that slowed down the amount of traffic we might have otherwise seen here in Leland,” Dzuba said. “It feels like we got off to a slow start.”

Dzuba is only partly right about the cool and rainy conditions, according to meteorologist Mike Kurz of the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

Kurz said that during June, 4.82 inches of rainfall fell on northwestern lower Michigan, which was 1.77 more inches of rain than normal for June.

Temperatures during June averaged out to be nearly three inches above normal, Kurz said. That’s because the first half of the month was warmer than normal. But the second half of June – when more boaters and other visitors are expected – was slightly cooler than normal.

Temperatures were less than a degree warmer than the long-term average for June at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Bingham Township; they have been a little over a degree cooler so far in July.

Temperatures for the remainder of the summer are anybody’s guess, Kurz said.

As for water levels, the Army Corps of Engineers is predicting that water levels in Lake Michigan will continue to rise this month before reaching their seasonal peak. Water levels will be about 16 inches above average through the next six months, Army hydrologists say.

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