low can Great Lakes water go?
is trouble for boaters, some wildlife
Green Bay Press-Gazette
STURGEON BAY - This winters wimpy
snowfall amounts and late-forming lake ice could mean
the small rise in Lake Michigan water levels last year
will be reversed, expert forecasters say.
Lake levels are dropping again after showing small gains
last year. As of this week, Lake Michigan is only 7 inches
above its record-low level set in 1964, and more than
3 feet below the record high of 1986.
The lake dropped 3 inches in the last four weeks. Compared
to the same time last year, Lake Michigan is down 7 inches.
growing possibility of lower levels could mean more problems
for recreational and commercial boating, more dredging
in local marinas and more applications for mooring permits.
The low water also has created some barriers to upstream
fish spawning areas for northern pike and steelhead trout.
At the same time, some wildlife such as geese and other
fish species benefit from more shallow watery coastal
habitat present during low water.
had very dry conditions this past year in Lake Huron and
(Lake) Michigan and thats why the levels dropped
so quickly, said Marie Strum, water resource engineer
with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit. The
low precipitation and evaporation is the reason.
Strum said the Great Lakes are 18 to 20 inches below the
long-term average, but are well above the record lows
set in 1964.
Locally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
is bracing for the possibility that changes and problems
caused by low water may continue or even get worse. Marinas
along the western shore of Green Bay in Marinette and
Oconto counties seem the hardest hit, said Tom Hansen,
conservation warden supervisor for the Wisconsin Department
of Natural Resources in Green Bay.
seeing more property damage accidents, people running
aground, clipping off a lower unit, and more shoreline
owners are wanting to put out mooring buoys, Hansen
Preparation is the key to staying safe, many say.
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.
Ice that began forming several weeks ago wont halt
the current decline only snow and rain can do that.
If present trends continue, forecasters say its
likely that by June the lakes will be between 4 and 6
inches below levels for the same month in 2002.
The snow pack from northern lower Michigan through the
Upper Peninsula to Canada is only 10 inches in many places,
where its usually about two-feet deep.
When the water drops, many docks are left unusable. That
leads to more people seeking temporary moorings. A mooring
is a semi-permanent anchor site that boaters must either
walk or paddle to in a small dinghy or other vessel.
But even moorings become more complicated with low water.
Thats because state law requires a permit for any
moorings more than 150 feet from the ordinary high-water
DNR wardens have attempted to crack down on local mooring
violations given the low water conditions. Theyve
written letters to boat owners and issued citations.
Hansen said the Wisconsin DNR also is seeing increased
requests for dredging permits.
Charlie Kinsey, owner of Holiday Harbor marina in Fish
Creek, said he dredged when levels dropped three years
ago. Out of 24 slips, he has three that are now inaccessible.
through with dredging. I worried about it at first, but
then I realized theres nothing I can do about it,
Kinsey said. Of course, Id like to have the
water come back up, whether its snow or rain.
According to Strum, The low lake levels are part
of a normal cycle. We were fortunate to have above-normal
levels for such a long time and thats why these
low levels seem like a significant change.
Gannett News Service contributed to this report.