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Great Lakes Water Levels

A Michigan great lake with high water around a pier
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Great Lakes Water Levels

EGLE's Water Resources Division (WRD) is requesting that shoreline property owners remove sandbags that were placed along the shoreline during the Great Lakes High Water Levels.  EGLE will be contacting property owners over the next several weeks.  Contact the EGLE staff that covers your county should you have any questions.

The Great Lakes are dynamic. Water levels on all of the Great Lakes are constantly moving up and down with changes in the weather, with the seasons, and with the changing climate. The main reasons water levels change are precipitation and evaporation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records and tracks the water levels of the Great Lakes.

Lake levels can change in a matter of hours due to weather. Seiches occur when strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure push water from one end to the other. When the wind or pressure changes, the water moves to the other side of the lake. Lake Erie is especially susceptible to large seiches.

The water levels on the Great Lakes also change with the changing seasons. In autumn, water freezes and becomes snow and ice which reduces flow into the lakes. Water levels will fall through the winter. In the spring, the ice and snow melts and rainfall become abundant. Water levels will rise through the summer. Lake levels will generally change 1-2 feet from season to season.

Great Lakes’ water levels cycle several feet between periods of high water and low water over decades. During long-term periods of dry weather, lake levels fall. In the early 2010’s, prolonged dry and warm weather resulted in record lows for some lakes. When precipitation remains above average, water levels rise. This happened in 2015 to 2020, one of the wettest 5-year periods on record for the Great Lakes region and resulted in the 2020 record high water event.

The variability of Great Lakes water levels is necessary for the continued health of the Lakes but can create challenges for waterfront communities and homeowners. Giving the Lakes the space they need to change will protect our infrastructure and ensure healthy Great Lakes for future generations. If you are planning a construction project on or near the Great Lakes, a permit from EGLE may be required.

General Information

Current and forecast Great Lakes water levels, US Army Corps of Engineers

Overview of Great Lakes Water Levels

Living on the Coast: Protecting Investments in Shore Property on the Great Lakes

Michigan's Coastlines Through Time


EGLE Great Lakes Programs and Permits

EGLE administers several programs related to the great lakes and their shorelines. EGLE’s programs include assistance for property owners and communities as well as permitting. Permits are required from both EGLE and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for work within the Great Lakes. Construction within designated Critical Dune Areas and High-Risk Erosion Areas also requires a permit.

Great Lakes Submerged Lands

The submerged lands program regulates construction activities below the OHWM of the Lakes.

Coastal Zone Management

The Coastal Zone program provides technical assistance and grant funding to coastal communities.

Shorelands Management

The shorelands management program includes High Risk Erosion Areas and Environmental Areas.

Dredging Projects

Projects involving dredging are regulated under multiple statutes and may involve contaminant testing.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dune programs includes permitting for sand mining and development in Critical Dune Areas.

Joint Permit Application

To apply for a permit from EGLE and the USACE, use the Joint Permit Application through MiEnviro Portal.

Contact EGLE 

For projects involving submerged lands, dredging, wetlands, or inland lakes and streams contact the land/water permit staff for your county. For projects involving high risk erosion areas or critical dune areas, contact the shorelands staff for your county.