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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes on a comeback, thanks to heavy rain
By Andrew Stern
Published August 22nd, 2004

CHICAGO - Great Lakes water levels have rebounded from near-record lows thanks to months of heavy rain, providing a boon to boat owners, swimmers and fish, scientists said Friday.

Rising a foot from 45-year lows last year, the five Great Lakes have reversed a six-year, 3-foot drop that exposed broad stretches of beaches, left marinas high and dry, and bent propellers.

With 18 percent of the world's fresh water, the lakes slake the thirst of 45 million North Americans and sustain more commercial shipping than the Panama and Suez Canals combined, but the low levels hampered ship traffic.

After several mild winters that increased winter evaporation rates and reduced the snowpack, water levels rose following heavy rains last fall and a once-in-a-century deluge in May. But that rainfall was an anomaly.

"That's what's worrisome," said Cynthia Sellinger, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

"What made the lakes rise this year was we had an extremely wet fall and a wet May. What usually gives us a good rise in the lake is ice cover to prevent evaporation in winter, and then a nice snowpack melting in the spring thaw," she said.

Rebounding water levels give fish access to habitat enriched by new plant growth from when water levels were lower, said Joel Brammeier of the Lake Michigan Federation, an environmental group.

The rise in lake levels helps swimmers by reducing the number of placid, shoreline pools where bacteria tend to multiply, Brammeier said. High bacteria counts have led to numerous beach closures in recent summers.

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