2018-07-26 / Front Page

Lake Michigan level hike levels off

Increases come to a halt
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

A years-long trend toward higher water levels in Lake Michigan appears to have abated.

That means already diminished beaches in Leelanau County are not losing any more ground.

According to a report released this month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydrology office in Detroit, the Lake Michigan- Lake Huron basin last month was just about the same as its June 2017 level.

While still about 16 inches above long-term averages, levels have been increasing since the early spring of 2013.

Melissa Kropfreiter, hydraulic engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers, said a “best case scenario” would be if levels stay 15 to 16 inches above average.

“If we have unprecedented wet weather, we could see record highs in one to two years. That is unlikely,” she added. “But exceptionally dry weather could bring levels back to average”

How do the higher lake levels affect life in Leelanau?

“My beach hasn’t been affected too much, at least not in front of my house,” Leland resident Debbie Master said.

But up and down the shoreline, some riparians have lost their beach.

“To the north one house away, the beach disappears and you have to walk in the water quite a ways before the beach comes back again. To the south of me, the beach is fairly deep from beach grass to water’s edge— maybe 20 feet give or take. But then about eight houses down the beach disappears again.”

She’s observed fewer people walking along the beach.

Elmwood Township Marina deputy Harbormaster John Brom said higher levels haven’t affected boaters.

“As far as we’re concerned, it hasn’t affected us too much,” he said. “The boaters as far as our launches go haven’t been affected. The drafts were deep enough so even the sailboats don’t have a problem here.”

Elmwood uses a “floating dock” system. Some marinas with fixed docks have had to install ladders during low-water years.

He added that sometimes with high levels water will go over marina’s launch docks, but that doesn’t affect boaters or marina workers.

Recent higher water levels followed what Kropfreiter described “sustained low period for 15 years.” The Michigan - Huron basin water levels reached record lows in 2013.

But due to an “unprecedented rate of rise between the winter of 2013 and summer of 2014,” Lake Michigan’s lake levels came up nearly two feet and brought the levels back in line with long-term average levels, Kropfreiter added.

Since that time, weather conditions resulted in even higher water levels. “We had snowy winters, good ice over and wet springs,” she said. So as waters continued to rise, beaches continued to shrink and the Lake Michigan - Huron basin ended up at its current levels of about 16 inches above average for the month of June.

All the Great Lakes were above their June long-term average water levels, according to the Army report. In Lake Michigan, record high level achieved in 1986 were about 14 inches above last month’s levels. Record lows were reached in 1964, just under three feet below reported June levels.

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