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Great Lakes Article:

Loving the lake levels

Bay City Times
Jeff Kart
07/27/2004

Lake Huron water levels are reaching their seasonal peak, and are up 14 inches from a year ago. "Ain't it great?" said Don Lindenberg, owner of Lindy's Landing, an 80-slip marina on the Quanicassee River near the Saginaw Bay in Tuscola County. The 14-inch climb is the largest on the Great Lakes, and bodes well for the near future, forecasters say.

Lakes Michigan and Huron are considered one lake by forecasters. Lindenberg said boaters' spirits have risen with water levels. "We don't hear any more complaints from customers," he said. "Nobody's having trouble. Anybody that's hitting bottom right now is going somewhere that might have been dirt two years ago."

The latest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecast says all five Great Lakes are up since July 2003. Lakes Erie and Superior are up 5 inches, and Lake Ontario is up 2 inches. The 14-inch rise on Lakes Michigan-Huron is still 9 inches below average for this time of year, but 2 feet above a low point in 1964, the Corps says. Lake Erie is at its long-term monthly average, and Lake Ontario is 2 inches above average.

Cynthia E. Sellinger, a hydrologist at the Great Lakes Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, said the 14-inch increase on Lake Huron is significant because it was driven by heavy rain in May. "What normally raises water levels is in the spring, when we have really nice spring runoff from snow melt," Sellinger said. But the spring runoff was below-average this year, she said. The Bay area saw 8 inches of rain in May. Sellinger said boaters should enjoy the water while they can, because Lake Huron will begin its seasonal decline in coming months. A six-month forecast shows a drop of 6-8 inches, Sellinger said.

Still, the lake will likely remain about 14 inches above what it was last winter, she said. Lindenberg, of Lindy's Landing, said the change in lake levels has made a huge difference for boaters. "Nobody's hitting bottom in the normal, run-of-the-mill operations," he said. A year ago, his shop was fixing boats with busted props and other damage all the time.

In recent years, some people have lamented that they couldn't launch their boats anywhere between Bay City and Caseville to the east, Lindenberg said, and others gave up boating altogether, waiting for higher water. Sellinger said it's too early to say if Lake Huron will keep edging up in coming years.

Forecasters are able to accurately predict only six months' worth of levels now. She said lake levels started declining in 1998, and reached their low point in 2003, but that doesn't mean the lakes are on a five-year cycle. She said one good sign is that Lake Superior has risen 5 inches from a year ago, and is projected to increase another inch by next month. "Michigan and Huron receives water from Lake Superior, so if Superior is higher, it's good for lakes Michigan and Huron."

Sellinger said researchers are working to identify long-term trends, to give people a 10-year outlook, for instance. That would help marina owners decide whether the cost of dredging is worth it, and help commercial shippers better manage their loads, she explained.

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