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Great Lakes Water Levels are on the Rise

What a difference a year makes. Late in the fall of 2012, the Great Lakes were nearing critically low water levels. Seasons of warm weather and less than average precipitation led to a near crisis in harbor and shipping communities around the region. With minimal snowfall during the winter of 2012-13, the water levels continued to decline and approached record low levels. Federal and state government agencies lobbied for emergency funds for dredging and assisting local marinas and municipalities which relied on the boating and shipping industries.

Fast forward a year later and things are certainly different. Heavy precipitation in the early spring and summer of 2013, gave way to an incredibly cold winter with abundant snowfall and ice cover. The ice cover, which was the highest level in 35 years, slowed the evaporation process of the lakes.  As we begin the big thaw, all of the Great Lakes continue to rise.

Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, which were the most critical a year ago, are now 12 inches above their levels of a year ago, according the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Because of their geographical layout, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are considered 1 body of water in their report. As we begin to enter the spring season, all of the lakes are expected to rise over the next several months. Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron are expected to rise 2 and 4 inches respectively over the next month, while Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are projected to rise 6 and 7 inches over the next 30 days.

But we aren't out of the woods yet according to officials. Even after the rebound, Lakes Michigan-Huron are still 3 inches below chart datum, which is a universal level used by the commercial shipping industry. Chart datum is considered the lowest the water level can be, without posing a threat to freighters and cargo carrying ships. In laymen’s terms, the lakes are still below average. All but Lake Superior are below long term averages for the month of March. Lakes Michigan-Huron are the farthest off the seasonal norm, at 13 inches below the long term average.
All in all, the outlook from local communities is much more positive than just 12 months ago. Marina owners and boaters alike should be greeted with much higher water levels than 2013, and in most cases dredging should not be necessary. 

From our perspective it will be a relief to be able to travel down the St. Joseph River this spring knowing there is plenty of water beneath the hull. The same is true for our location in Lake Erie, although the daily water level there is more determined by the prevailing wind.

Let’s hope this positive trend continues into the future.

Information in this article was provided by the Detroit District US Army Corps of Engineers. 

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