Summer rains little help for low
By John Charles Robbins
The Holland Sentinel
In his 77 summers spent at Ottawa Beach, Fred Vaas has
seen the lake levels go up and down and up again.
So the fact that Lake Michigan is about 2-feet lower
than its average depth is no surprise to Vaas -- although
he admits this latest dip seems to be hanging around a
lot longer than usual.
"It's usually up five years, then down five years,"
he said Monday, standing on an aging private dock on Lake
Macatawa in Park Township.
"I don't know. It seems to be dragging its feet
this time," said Vaas of the water level in the inland
lake, and Lake Michigan, a short distance away.
"It hasn't come back like usual," he said.
An avid fall fisherman, Vaas has been out on the lakes
every year since he was seven-days old -- his family liked
the water, too.
The level of Lake Macatawa is an ever-changing reality,
according to Vaas. As he stood on the dock with about
a foot of water underneath, he said, "This was dry
land in March."
And in the last four weeks he's seen the water level
rise 3 inches.
"Don't know how long it'll last," he said,
tossing a faded garden hose out to the end of the lopsided
Vaas remembers back when he was a boy, about 1937, when
the water in the inland lake was so low it created large
sandy beaches in the area of Waukazoo point.
"The realtors went nuts," he said with a laugh.
"Three years later (the beaches) were all under water."
Weather data for July show higher than average rainfall
for the areas impacting the Great Lakes, however, rain
totals for the last 12 months are considerably down, according
to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Precipitation totals for July show lakes Michigan-Huron
had 3.33 inches of rain, slightly above average for the
month of 3 inches.But total rainfall in the region in
the last 12 months amounted to just 26.67 inches, down
5.43 inches from the collective average of 32.10 inches.
It represents about 83 percent of the average yearly rainfall
affecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Today Lake Michigan's depth is 577.6 feet above sea level.
That level is 22 inches below the lake's long-term average
And Lake Michigan has reached its peak depth for the
year and will begin its seasonal decline this month, according
to the Corps of Engineers.
Scott Louis moved back to West Michigan after a 20 year
absence and he said the low water levels are a drastic
departure from what he remembers.
On Monday Louis was working on his 21-foot Bayliner near
the public boat launch at Dunton Park in Holland Township,
preparing for a late afternoon on Lake Macatawa.
Recently retired from the U.S. Navy, Louis moved to the
township this summer. The boat is a recent addition to
the family's recreational pursuits.
"It's way down," Louis said of the lake. "No
where near what it used to be."
He said the water levels around Grand Haven are way down,
And that's true of other inland waterways up and down
the Lake Michigan coast.
"We're about a foot lower than where we were last
year at this time," said Spark Overway, dock master
at Sergeant Marina in Saugatuck.
The private marina on Kalamazoo Lake includes about 50
slips and accommodates all types of vessels, although
larger sailboats are having trouble getting to the docks
because of shrinking water levels.
The waterway winds through Saugatuck and connects with
Overway, citing the cyclical nature of the lake levels,
said he's hoping the worst is over.
"They say it runs on a seven-year cycle. If that's
true, next year we should be going up again," he
"Lake Michigan generally will lose about a foot
of water a year just through evaporation ... and we don't
have anything to build it back up after it evaporates,"
He said two things are needed to up the water levels
of the big lake: a whole lot of rain and a whole lot of
snow -- and not lake-effect snow storms.
"But our winters (lately) have been just lake-effect
snow, with the moisture coming out of the lake (as icy
cold air moves over the water).
"We need some snow storms coming out of the Rockies
to dump on us," said Overway.