September 3, 2019
This year has brought some of the highest water levels Michigan has seen since 1986. Lake Superior, Lake Erie, and Lake St. Clair have all set records highs for the months of May, June, and July. Lake Michigan and Huron (considered one lake for record keeping purposes) missed the record high level set in 1986 by just inches. Information regarding the lake levels and future projections can be located on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.
The high levels have brought some attention to the various water control structures located throughout the Great Lakes system, such as the Soo Locks and the control structures in the St. Mary's River. These structures are controlled by the International Joint Commission, which adjusts the flows slightly from month-to-month. The net effect of these control structures only impact lake levels by about two inches. In comparison, a storm surge caused by heavy winds can result in local fluctuations of up to two feet on the lakes.
Much of this is due to above average weather precipitation earlier this year (and for the past couple of years) and low evaporation this past winter. Although these levels are considered natural, they are causing flooding and erosion which can damage property and landscape. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is working to assist communities and property owners by implementing short- and long-term solutions for residents through statutes, permits, and project support. Even though EGLE can approve emergency permits, the department does not provide funding for protection projects. Your local government is the best place to start to find out more information about potential assistance.
It is also important to note the type of shoreline will determine the water level's impact on it. Since water levels are subject to the whims of Mother Nature, it is important to be prepared for flooding. To mitigate the impacts of high-water levels and flooding, property owners can build up shorelines (after obtaining any necessary permits) and move structures away from the shore. EGLE has more information regarding shoreline protection and when a permit from the state may be required on its website.
In cases of emergency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can provide sandbags and tarps with a request from the state. For those with homeowner's or renter's insurance, please note many plans don't cover flood damage. Visit the FEMA and National Weather Service websites for more information on flood prevention.