Inland Lakes High Water Levels

High water levels and flooding have been a common experience across Michigan since 2019. As a result, flooding has negatively affected residents and businesses, including homes, well and septic systems, farms, and roads.  The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has been collaborating on projects associated with both short-term and long-term solutions to flooding, and responding within our statutory authorities.  Water Resources Division (WRD) has the responsibility to ensure that projects are completed in a manner that avoids and minimizes negative impacts to neighbors and the public trust resources of the state, including wetlands, inland lakes and streams. For further information on our wetlands, lakes and streams permitting process please refer to www.mi.gov/jointpermit and the High Water Levels Wetlands, Inland Lakes and Streams Permitting Fact Sheet.

Due to the widespread and prolonged nature of the flooding, many citizens are left questioning why this is happening, what they can do to prepare and/or what they can do to respond when high water or floods affect their homes and businesses. This webpage is intended to provide some resources for understanding what is happening and how WRD can assist. 

Background on High Water Inland Lake and Stream Levels

Several factors contribute to high inland water levels:

  • A wetter than usual summer and fall in 2018 caused higher than normal soil moisture content which limited the infiltration of rain events in the spring of 2019 (i.e., rain could not soak into the ground).
  • Larger volume of snow melt-waters in 2019 because of above-average winter snow-pack depths in and higher than normal water content within the snow.
  • Above-average spring 2019 rainfall totals, including larger total volume of rainfall, prolonged rainfall events, and very intense individual rainfall events. These occurrences can cause flooding even when pre-existing water levels are normal.
  • Record-high water levels on the Great Lakes cause a backwater effect on the rivers that flow into them which in turn back up into the streams, lakes and wetlands that lie upstream of them. The US Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit monitors water levels on the Great Lakes. Weekly updates and water level forecasts can be seen at www.lre.usace.army.mil. These levels are expected to trend upward.
  • All of the above has resulted in higher groundwater levels, higher stream flows, and higher lake levels overall. All of this means water has less places to go, and frequency and magnitude of flooding events can increase.

WRD Roles in Responding to Inland Lake Flooding

WRD does not directly manage high-water level projects, and typically does not have the ability to provide funding for projects. However, we do have several important roles when flood alleviation activities occur affecting wetlands, inland lakes or streams:

  • Support local and statewide emergency management and other government agencies on project planning and implementation.
  • Provide technical assistance on projects, including information on water levels and trends, compliance with state environmental laws, shoreline protection techniques, and best management practices.
  • Review permit applications for projects involving wetlands, inland lakes and streams and associated activities. In critical cases, EGLE can expedite permit reviews and may issue emergency permits for projects that are intended to protect property and the public health, safety or welfare.

Additional Information:

High Water Levels Wetlands, Inland Lakes and Streams Permitting Fact Sheet

2019 High Water Levels Information for Flood Management

Shoreline Erosion Protection on Inland Lakes and Streams

Protecting Michigan's Inland Lakes: A Toolkit for Local Governments

Technical Assistance on Water and Watershed Management (EGLE Nonpoint Source Program)

Great Lakes High Water Levels

Flooding Impacts on Septic Systems and Private Wells

Local County Health Departments – contact for Septic System or Drinking Water Well issues