Latest for the 2011 season. Again good news for us. I went for a jog yesterday and was very pleased with the size of sheboygans beaches this spring. As the article states though this can all change.
Great Lakes water levels expected to be down this summer
3/31 - Muskegon, Mich. - Lake Michigan’s water level is forecasted to be down this summer, leaving coastal property owners with larger beachfront areas but forcing boaters to navigate shallower water.
Lake Michigan and Lake Huron — technically one body of water — are predicted to be down 8 to 10 inches from last summer’s level, caused by lower than average snowfall and precipitation over the past year, said Keith Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District Office.
Another factor was less ice on Lake Michigan, which fueled water evaporation and lake effect storms. While the storms dumped a lot of snow on West Michigan this winter, the resulting snowmelt wasn’t a net increase to the lake, officials said.
How severe the lake drop is this summer depends on how much rain and precipitation falls over the Great Lake’s region this spring, Kompoltowicz said.
“The most recent information that I have for precipitation shows that lakes Michigan and Huron have received well above average precipitation so far in March,” Kompoltowicz said. “So that may cause our forecast that we’ll issue next week to be adjusted upward a little bit.”
Lake Superior is expected to be as much as 8 inches below last summer’s level, while Lake Erie is expected to dip as much as 6 inches below last year’s level, according to the Army Corps February forecast. Lake Ontario is expected to equal to or be higher than last summer’s level.
If Lake Michigan’s water level dips as expected, it means boaters will have to be more mindful of where they pilot their vessels, said Kathleen Torresen, general manager of Torresen Marine in Muskegon.
“Every couple of inches matters, and it has to do with the boaters’ awareness of the water they’re on,” Torresen said. “When people just take for granted that everything is the same as it’s ever been, they could start running into things they haven’t before.”
Falling water levels are nothing new to the Great Lakes, Kompoltowicz said. Since the late 1990s, Lake Michigan has undergone its second longest stretch of continuously below average levels since the Army Corps began collecting data in the mid-1800s.
Lake Michigan surged to a near record high in May 1997, when it was 9 inches below the all-time record high of 582.3 feet recorded in October 1986, 4.8 feet above the average surface level.
Dry winters and low precipitation caused Lake Michigan levels to decline, Kompoltowicz said.
By December 2007, the water level had sunk to near historic lows. The lake rebounded in June 2008, when it rose 6 inches in one month — triple the average rise in June, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data.
“It’s been kind of gain a little bit, lose a little bit. Gain a little more, lose a little more,” Kompoltowicz said. “We just haven’t had that consistent, very snowy winter, wet spring several years in a row to get us back to average.”
For beachgoers, the drop isn’t a bad thing. Every inch rise in lake levels equates to 10 inches of lost beach, according to government data. At Grand Haven State Park, the rise and fall in lake levels hasn’t led to large changes in the park’s beachfront since Supervisor Pat Whalen came to the park eight years ago.
“Year-to-year, it might be a 30 to 40 feet difference in the shoreline, but nothing substantial,” Whalen said.
Look at the shoreline 40 years ago, and it’s a different story, he said. “We’ve got pictures that show it was much higher,” Whalen said. “At least a 150-foot difference or more back in the ‘70s.”
But what’s good for beach lovers is bad for the Great Lakes shipping industry.
Glen Nekvasil, spokesman for the Lake Carriers’ Association, said every inch of water lost equates to a diminished carrying capacity of anywhere from 50 tons to 270 tons.
“It’s only rare that we lose an inch,” he said. “Oftentimes we are talking a foot or more.”
Where the decline hurts the shipping industry is water levels near Michigan’s 38 ports, Nekvasil said. The Army Corps of Engineers needs to remove about 15.5 million cubic yards of sediment to make the waterways more navigable, he said.
“When we say lake levels that’s actually kind of a misnomer because out in the middle of the lake obviously you’ve got more water than you would ever know what to do with,” he said. “It’s the water level in the ports and the connecting channels.”
By the end of this week, the King Co. of Holland was to begin dredging the Muskegon harbor, an action performed every three years. Last October, the 1,000-foot Indiana Harbor coal-carrying freighter ran aground near the entrance of the harbor on its way to the Consumers Energy B.C. Cobb plant. The freighter also ran aground in nearly the same location in August 2007.
Recreational boaters probably won’t notice a dramatic difference this summer, even on White Lake and Muskegon Lake, said Eric Harsch, co-owner of at Crosswinds Marine Service in Whitehall.
“The key factor is being up on your local knowledge and knowing your charts,” he said. “The shallower parts are going to be shallower but there’s deeper parts to get in.”
The Muskegon Chronicle
I'd rather be Rollerblading