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Keep five "Ws" in mind to be safe from hidden dangers in lakes, rivers this summer

Boardwalk erosion

Summer in Michigan means fun times at the beach or on the water.

As you head out to your favorite fishing spot, swimming hole, or boating lake, you'll notice that water levels are significantly higher than last year. Michigan is in the midst of a stretch where the water in most lakes, rivers and canals are at record or near-record highs.

That can lead to unexpected surprises. Be mindful that you may encounter some dangerous materials lurking in or around the water.

The Michigan High Water Action Team advises you to keep these five "Ws" in mind as you relax on, in or around Michigan's many lakes and rivers:

  • Watch for debris in the water or along beaches. Docks, decks, stairs and trees can be undermined by waves and erosion and washed into the Great Lakes. On inland lakes, high water can inundate marinas, yards or public property, making it difficult to see structures in the water. Boaters should be aware of any floating items that could damage hulls or engine propellers, or injure anyone who is being towed on flotation devices behind boats.
  • Wakes from vessels can be magnified by high water levels. Vessel wakes can cause overflow onto land or docks, potentially causing property damage, erosion and flooding, and safety concerns. Observe all local watercraft controls and restrictions, as well as "No Wake" zones. The Department of Natural Resources provides a county-by-county list of local water controls.
  • Walking along beaches or in the water can be dangerous without proper footwear. You may encounter nails, screws, shattered boards, branches, exposed rocks, or other manmade and natural debris. Property owners are urged to clear debris from along the shoreline before it becomes a potential recreation hazard. It is the responsibility of the property owner to properly dispose of washed-up debris, following local rules governing waste removal.
  • When reviewing your homeowners or boating insurance policy, verify that you have appropriate coverage. Damage to watercraft caused by debris in the water can be costly without proper coverage, according to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS).
  • What's open, what's closed? High water levels and flooding of lakes and rivers can increase exposure to sewage and chemicals. Beach and water conditions can be tracked through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) BeachGuard monitoring system or by contacting the local health department. Be sure, too, to check whether amenities at public state or local parks, boat launches or marinas are impacted by high waters.

The Michigan High Water Action Team includes members from numerous state agencies as well as groups representing federal and local officials. The team was created following the Michigan High Water Coordinating Summit held in February to facilitate collaboration and resource sharing in response to public health and safety challenges created by Michigan's historic high water levels.

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