Great Lakes levels
expected to rise
By DAN SHINE Knight Ridder Newspapers
Boaters, marina owners, shippers and
thousands of waterfront dwellers can finally exhale: Water
levels in the Great Lakes are expected
to rise this summer.
The good news comes after four years
of watching levels drop about 4 feet.
Despite the fifth-warmest winter on record,
Lakes Michigan and Huron should rise about 8 inches from
last year and St. Clair and Erie
should increase by about 5 inches, according to the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.
A very rainy fall and an average snowpack
around the Lake Superior basin
this winter should combine for higher lakes come spring.
"Earlier we were saying that we
expected conditions to be about the same as last year,
but now we think we'll see some definite improvement,"
said Keith Kompoltowicz, meteorologist with the corps'
"This is good news because I've
really had some hard times launching my boat at different
ramps around the state," said fisherman Greg Reynolds
of Anchor Bay. "I've seen more than a few boats hit
bottom or a pile of rocks hidden just below the water's
Low lake levels have made some boat ramps
useless and turned previously sunken sand bars and rock
piles into dangerous obstacles. Even the simple act of
getting into a boat from a much higher pier was a leap
Freighters that carry iron ore to area
steel plants also have had trouble. For each inch the
lake went down, shippers had to lighten their load by
about 100 metric tons. With the lakes expected to rise,
freighters should be able to carry more weight without
fear of running aground.
A 1999 Michigan State University study
said Michigan marinas lost about $30 million that year,
mostly because of the high cost of dredging to ease access.
The university also pegged recreational
boating industry losses -- to marinas, tourism and boat
sellers -- at $50 million because of low water that year.
Van Snider Jr., president of the Michigan
Boating Industries Association, said the economy has been
more of a factor in boat sales than low lake levels. Boat
sales were good, Snider said, even when the lakes were
But "it's nice to see things are
improving," Snider said.
Forecasters began the winter optimistic
about lake levels rising because of the heavy rainfall
in September and October. But above-normal temperatures
in November, December, January and February prevented
ice from forming on the lakes.
An ice cap prevents evaporation, one
of the main reasons for declining lake levels during the
past four years. Lakes can lose 1 to 2 inches of water
a week from evaporation in fall and winter.
Lack of ice also leads to lake-effect
snow, caused by cold air mixing with warmer water that
is evaporating. When that snow melts on the land, not
all of it returns to the lake.
Last month, precipitation around the
Lake Superior, Michigan-Huron and
was well above average.
And even though this year's Superior
basin snowpack is about 10 percent below average, it is
better than past winters.
The snowpack provides about 40 percent
of Lake Superior's annual water
supply. Lakes Michigan
and Huron get up to 30 percent of their yearly supply
snowmelt when it flows down.