Water Levels in Great Lakes Regain From Record Lows

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After hitting record lows in January of this year, the water levels of the Great Lakes have risen in recent months to more sustainable depths.

According to the Army Corp of Engineers, lakes Michigan and Huron hit all time lows in 2012 for depth measurements since record keeping began in 1918.

“This year we had good winter ice pack and good snow melt, [so] the Great Lakes levels are higher this year than they’ve been in a number of years, particularly the upper Great Lakes,” BoatUS director of technical services Beth Leonard told Trade Only Today. “But we had gone through about three years of below-average rainfall and quite severe drought last year and the year preceding.”

The ‘astonishing’ drop in water levels, as Leonard describes them, has lead to a spike in striking-submerged-object damage claims from boaters throughout the Great Lake region.

In February of this year the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a plan for emergency dredging in order to keep some harbors from closing.

Graffiti on a submerged wall illustrates the change in lake water levels. (Photo by Todd McInturf / Detroit News)

Graffiti on a once submerged wall illustrates the change in lake water levels. (Photo by Todd McInturf / Detroit News)

At the time of the report lakes Michigan, Huron, and St. Clare had seen water levels drop 16 inches from the year before. Lake Erie, by far the worst, reported a 21-inch drop in water level. The report expresses that all of those drops are expected to increase with time.

Michigan had over 800,000 registered boaters in 2011, ranking third in the nation. The Department of Natural Resources estimates the dredging plan to cost just under $21 million, occurring at 58 different sites throughout the Great Lakes.

Despite the restored depths; commercially, the dredging remains a must. As water levels have dropped, payloads on commercial ships have had to reduce in order to avoid running aground.

In the 1990s, when the lakes were much deeper, payloads for coal shipments could average around 71,000 tons of cargo. As recently as last month those averages have been around 64,000 tons – a 10-percent difference.

To date, 12 of the propsed sites have completed dredging; with work under way at an additional six. Permits have been granted for 30 more of the proposed sites listed in the dredging report.

“We’ve seen a much greater seasonal rise than we did a year ago,” Keith Kompoltowicz, the Army Corps of Engineers’ chief of watershed hydrology, told the Detroit News. “We had more snow buildup throughout the Great Lakes Basin, particularly in the northern region. And then we had an unbelievably wet spring.”

In order to restore the lakes to their previous levels, it will take roughly six months of constantly wet weather. However, if next summer is a dry season, the lakes will be right back to square one; dangerously low.

A table of Lake Michigan-Huron water levels for Sept. 2013 from the Army Corp of Engineers.

A table of Lake Michigan-Huron water levels for Sept. 2013 from the Army Corp of Engineers.

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