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Great Lakes Article:

Low lake levels are still a big concern for sportsmen
By Jim Barta
Heritage Newspapers
01/29/04


I don't know about you, but I'm still scratching my head wondering what's happened to all the water in the Great Lakes.

I've heard all the statements from the so-called experts about how this is just a natural swing of water levels, but we seem to have been swinging downward for an awful long time now.

And it's not like the news gets any better!

From the look of things, the last couple seasons gave us just a taste of what we may have to deal with yet again this year.

Low water levels across Michigan continue to produce more than a few boating problems.

Damage to lower units on boats caused by rocks and other bottom-hugging structure cost boat owners and insurance companies tens of thousands of dollars.

Depending on who you talk to, theories on why we're facing these problems change slightly.

Researchers claim that the series of warm winters that we experienced a few years ago coupled with a lack of heavy summer rain is a primary contributor.

According to them, when temperatures stay above freezing, ice fails to form over the Great Lakes and without a blanket of ice to cover such large bodies of water, huge volumes evaporate and are lost.

Occasionally, some of this water is recovered in the form of snow, but even then, much of it falls inland and is lost as it's absorbed into the ground.

Even though we continue to receive snow each winter, there's yet another reason why little of it directly benefits water levels.

Much of what has fallen is the result of evaporation from the Great Lakes.

This moisture is referred to as "lake effect" precipitation and simply won't replenish our waterways.

What will be required to raise water levels are large amounts of snow derived from moisture located outside of our region.

Lately, our state's annual snowfall has been on a steady decline.

In recent years, accumulations of snow have averaged 15 percent to 40 percent below Michigan's 30-year average.

Now I'm not a big fan of shoveling deep drifts of the stuff, but then I hate having a boat out of commission even more.

Another theory that may contribute in part to our recent water depths deals with the reversal of water that once flowed into our Great Lakes, but now flows out.

For example, at one time the Chicago River flowed into Lake Michigan. Today, due to efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers, the water's course has been reversed.

Water now flows from the lake and winds its way into the Mississippi.

Canada has also reversed the tide of water that once flowed into our system.

Several tributaries that, at one time, found their way into the St. Lawrence Seaway have been reconstructed by Canada's equivalent to our Army Corps of Engineers and redirected out.

Personally, I doubt if this theory is much more than lip service because these reversal plans started taking place the late 1920s and early '30s. Since that time, we've experienced periods of varied water levels, some of which reached record highs.

Conditions today are a far cry from those experienced by residents with waterfront homes or those located along canals in 1975.

At that time water depths were 40 inches above their present level.

Homeowners banded together to protect their property from ensuing floods, even if it meant eliminating scenic beaches in front of their homes by building unsightly dikes and barriers.

Sandbag dams and expensive breakwalls were constructed anywhere necessary to stop rising water conditions.

Residents assumed this work and danger as simply the price of living near the water.

The cost of living there has certainly changed!

Today, many of these same homeowners can't even get their boats to float in areas that once threatened their homes with flooding.

But, just as when water conditions were high, few of these residents would live anywhere else.

It's nice to be able to walk out your back door and view the boat as it sits at your own dock. Even if this year you may be able to plant a garden around it, it's still worth it.

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