winters lead to low water levels on Great Lakes
Gannett News Service
HARSENS ISLAND, Mich. - Great Lakes water levels are falling
again after last years slight rise, to the great distress
of those who rely on the lakes for fun or commerce. And
there is no evidence that a recent cold snap will reverse
The lack of an ice cap during several recent warmer-than-average
winters has been a major factor in the decline, along
with persistent drought. Without a winter cover, evaporation
drains the lakes during cold months.
Ice is forming, but experts say that wont halt the
current decline only snow and rain can do that.
Neither is expected, and if present trends continue, forecasters
say its likely that by June the lakes will be between
4 to 6 inches below levels for the same month in 2002.
Recreational boaters already have found it increasingly
difficult to navigate or find a spot to launch their boats,
and big lakes freighters carrying coal and iron ore have
had to lighten their loads.
ice cover will reduce the lake effect snow that borrows
moisture from the lake, said Marie Strum, water
resource engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
But only steady precipitation will prevent a deeper plunge
in lake levels, Strum said.
The most graphic example of the dry conditions is the
7-inch decline in January in Lake Huron-Michigan from
the same period one year ago. Lake St. Clair and Lake
Superior are down 2 inches, Lake Erie an inch and Lake
Ontario, 8 inches.
had very dry conditions this past year in Lake Huron and
Michigan and thats why the levels dropped so quickly,
Strum said. The low precipitation and evaporation
is the reason.
With hopes apparently dashed that last years rise
in water levels will continue, experienced sailors are
renewing a now-familiar warning to boaters: Keep an eye
on your water depth charts.
For sailors on Lake St. Clair, the prediction of lower
water levels is more critical because the heart-shaped
lake that borders Detroit the most heavily used
waterway in Michigan is also the most shallow.
That could mean some costly boat repairs for mariners
who run into objects just below the surface, said George
Czeisperger, owner of The Marina on the Salt River, which
empties into Lake St. Clair.
Preparation is the key to staying safe.
not a big deal if you ... read your charts and dont
go to places that youve never been before,
said boater Chuck Brockman, who has been cruising Lake
St. Clair for 50 years. Experienced boaters will
be OK. The newer boater will have to learn.
Substantial increases in precipitation dont appear
likely in the next few months, said Bill Deedler, meteorologist
with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township,
To make matters worse, the snowpack from northern lower
Michigan through the Upper Peninsula to Canada is skimpy
and that means less run-off when the spring comes, Deedler
snowpack usually determines the lake level for the coming
year, Deedler said. They should have a couple
of feet, but in some places they have only 10 inches.
Strum said the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair are 18 to
20 inches below the long-term average, but are well above
the record lows set in 1964.
low lake levels are part of a normal cycle, Strum
said. We were fortunate to have above normal levels
for such a long time and thats why these low levels
seem like a significant change.
Two years ago, marina owners such as Czeisperger had to
spend thousands of dollars to dredge boat wells and the
boats couldnt get out they kept hitting the
bottom, Czeisperger said. Last year the water
was up and that helped. If the water drops 6 inches this
summer, thats a lot.