‘Historic’ increase in Great Lakes water levels

Lake Michigan, Grand Haven State Park
Lake Michigan at Grand Haven State Park on Jan. 16, 2018.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Between the glistening, ice-covered light posts and massive mounds of snow, the Lake Michigan shoreline in Grand Haven has become a photographer’s playground. But something else — something unseen — is happening there.

“Mother Nature is bringing in that extra moisture from across the world and dropping it here in the Great Lakes basin,” Tom O’Bryan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.

The numbers tell the story that cameras can’t: Lake Michigan is nearly a foot higher now than a year ago and nearly 4 feet higher than five years ago.

“(The five-year increase is) a historic event. We haven’t had that kind of increase in forever,” O’Bryan said. “Lake Superior is running some daily high records right now for this time of year. Lake Ontario hit highs in the summer of 2017.”

>>Online: Great Lakes water levels

The rising levels bring with them both pros and cons. Higher water means more tonnage per trip through the Soo Locks, which creates a positive trickle-down effect.

“That, to the consumer, is a better price, unit price, for that product. And then that gets passed on to the customers,” O’Bryan explained.

The chief concern with high waters is shoreline erosion.

“There have been a few houses that have fallen in down in the New Buffalo area actually, in the southern end of Lake Michigan last year. And there’s some that are very close to having catastrophes for this upcoming season,” O’Bryan said. “We’re already seeing an influx of permit requests to build shoreline protection — some emergency protection going on there.”

The rising waters impact more than only lakefront homeowners. O’Bryan said higher levels have stolen hundreds of feet of beach in Grand Haven over the past few years and could also hurt the pier restoration.

Whether the higher water levels are a good or bad thing depends on who you ask, O’Bryan said.

But as high as the water is now and as unpredictable as it may seem, seemingly only one is certain:

“It’s going to change,” O’Bryan said. “Just like the weather changes in West Michigan, the water levels of the Great Lakes will change.”

>>Online: Great Lakes water levels forecast