Lake water levels continue to rise
By Jeff Alexander
Published May 5, 2005
Lake levels are up, summer is near and marinas are scrambling
to get all their customers' boats in the water before
the next warm weekend.
It's all good, right?
Not so fast.
Soaring gas prices will sting boaters this year. And
the rising lake levels, though good for boaters and the
shipping industry, conceal submerged logs and other hazards
that were exposed two years ago when Great Lakes water
levels neared record lows.
"We're looking really good this year as far as the
water level," said Dave Wikman, harbor master at
Muskegon's Hartshorn Marina. "The one thing that
concerns me is the rise in lake levels has hidden some
deadheads (submerged logs and other debris) near our launch
"Those deadheads are out of sight now, but hopefully
not out of boaters' minds."
Boaters should always have a working knowledge of the
waters they are navigating and exercise caution to avoid
potentially hazardous shallow areas, said Tom O'Bryan,
a civil engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district
office in Grand Haven.
"If you recall a piling that was just barely above
the water line last year and isn't there now, you have
to assume it's still there ... just below the surface,"
Water levels in Lake Michigan are currently six inches
above last year at this time, and a foot higher than in
April 2003, according to data compiled by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers.
The lake level is projected to rise another 1 to 4 inches
next month and possibly another two inches by July, depending
on the weather.
Despite the lake level rebound from 2003, when Lake Michigan
came within 5 inches of the record low set in 1964, the
water level is still about 10 inches below its long-term
Low lake levels in 2003 made for wider beaches but hurt
the shipping industry, which had to lighten loads on freighters
to avoid running aground. An extra inch of lake water
allows a 1,000-foot freighter to carry an additional 270
tons of goods, according to the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers'
Many marinas were forced to dredge in 2003 so boats could
get in and out of slips. And some municipal boat launches
were left high and dry.
What a difference a foot of water makes. Marinas in West
Michigan contacted by The Chronicle reported good conditions
for this boating season.
"I keep a guage by the dock and our water level
here is about 9 inches above where it was at this time
last year," said John Ennenga, manager of the Whitehall
Landing marina on White Lake. "We're fine, we won't
have to do any dredging.
"Two years ago got real touchy," Ennenga said.
"Last year was better and made us comfortable. We've
gotten some more cushion this year."
The city of Grand Haven added an 18-foot extension to
the Harbor Island boat launch in 2003 to deal with the
near-record low water level. City officials who took soundings
at the ramp late last year found the water depth was 4.5
feet at the dock, which is deep enough to handle almost
any boat that would use the launch ramp, said Sec Garcia,
Grand Haven's facilities manager.
Marina operators are even smiling on the north side of
Muskegon Lake, which is shallower than the south side
of the 4,150-acre lake.
"So far, so good," said Alice Lemieux, officer
manager at Pointe Marine, located on the Bear Lake channel.
"The water level is up from last year; it's still
not where it belongs, but it looks like we won't have
Ed Geerlings, general manager at Great Lakes Marina,
said his mechanics have repaired several propellors in
recent months after boaters hit bottom or struck submerged
debris in Muskegon Lake. Aside from the danger of deadheads,
Geerlings said boaters are anxious to get out on the water.
"We're launching boats like crazy -- 10 boats a
day for 60 days," Geerlings said.
Water levels of the Great Lakes began to drop steadily
in 1997, a decade after record high water levels sent
some cottages in Grand Haven and other lakeshore communities
tumbling into the lake. Federal officials who monitor
lake levels have said it may take several years for the
lakes to return to average levels.
Cynthia Sellinger, a hydrologist at the Ann Arbor-based
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory operated
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
said the levels of all five Great Lakes are much higher
this spring than they were at the same time in 2004.
Sellinger blamed the below-normal levels of the previous
half-dozen years on less rain and snow in the Great Lakes
basin combined with more evaporation caused by unusually
She said a wet fall last year, followed by average snowfall
this winter, helped increase lake levels in all five Great
Sellinger said water levels should remain above last
year's amounts at least through the summer. "I know
boaters are really excited about that."