The water level of Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes, has steadily risen annually for several months — and it is expected to continue that pattern this summer, according to a press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lake Michigan saw record-breaking mean water levels for each month of 2020. The next few months are predicted to also reach record levels, according to Deanna Apps, physical scientist for the Army Corps Detroit District.
The Mason County Emergency Management Office is working with the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to assess areas for emergency mitigation.
“We have been dealing with high water levels for years,” said Liz Reimink, Mason County emergency management coordinator. “We work to monitor areas that are at-risk.”
Spring months typically have a seasonal rise in water levels which peaks in the summer, but because of a wet fall and warm winter, the Army Corps is forecasting the record-breaking to continue at least until July 2020, Apps said.
She also explained that the lake appears to be going through a transition because of persistent wet conditions.
“Since January 2013, Lake Michigan went from record lows to record highs. The lake has changed five-and-a-half to six feet in seven years. There have been consistent wet patterns, especially in the last couple years,” Apps said.
Reimink said local emergency response agencies are looking at how the water level creates new currents, which could endanger the lives of the public.
“The big thing we are planning for this year is where the water is in new places,” she said. “This isn’t the same lake people swam in two years ago. There is inherently more risk for swimming, boaters and homeowners. On the public safety side, we are trying to educate people and be proactive about closing beaches.”
The emergency management department is focusing on the best ways to coordinate multiple water rescues and implementing additional training for emergency response teams, she said.
The Pere Marquette Township Fire Department is pursuing ropes rescue training after two separate incidents at Peter Pan Land in the past year when people could not climb up the sandy cliff. When Fire Chief Larry Gaylord proposed the training during a Pere Marquette Township meeting, he explained in the past the people could have walked along the shoreline back to Buttersville Park, but because of erosion that was no longer an option.
The United States Coast Guard Station Ludington is expected to open Monday, May 18, with seven to eight guardsmen.
“We are aware of the rising water levels. As an area of responsibility, we keep an eye on the water levels,” said Petty Officer Second Class Andrew Velky, who will be the Ludington Station supervisor for the season.
When will the water levels peak long-term? Apps said it is impossible to know. Though the Army Corps records go as far back as 1918 — data which helps with perspective — the conditions that impact water levels are complex. The size of the lakes also make it difficult to assess how current conditions will impact water levels in the future.
“The hard part (of making predictions) is that there are so many variables that impact water levels. Precipitation is a big part, but there is also runoff and evaporation,” she said.
The Army Corps publishes new predictions each month for the next six months for the Great Lakes, which are available on the Detroit District website.