Rising waters put damper on Michigan tourism

By: - July 28, 2019 6:32 am

Lake Michigan, Manistique | Susan J. Demas

Beaches all around the Great Lakes are disappearing this summer as the region deals with near all-time high water levels. 

Take Berrien County in Southwest Michigan, for instance, where a beach in Chikaming Township is all but non-existent, according to a report by WLS-TV in Chicago. Even the Upper Peninsula has been hit, with high Lake Michigan levels destroying part of a boardwalk in Manistique and a swollen Lake Superior burying the signature colorful rocks at Whitefish Point. 

Manistique boardwalk destroyed by high Lake Michigan levels | Susan J. Demas

The high water levels are turning lawns in Grand Rapids into swamps and putting a damper on Michigan’s traditionally strong tourism during the summer months. 

Water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron — the two lakes are scientifically classified as one body of water — are about 3 feet above their long-term average annual level, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District, which tracks Great Lakes water levels. 

Lake Michigan, Southwest Michigan | Nick Manes

“With another wet month across the Great Lakes basin, water levels continued to rise in June and have reached some of the highest levels in our recorded history, which dates back to 1918,” Keith Kompoltowicz, the Corps’ chief of watershed technology, said in a statement earlier this month. 

The other Great Lakes are also seeing similar trends, according to the Army Corps data. Lake Superior’s level is projected to be near its current level in one month, but the other lakes — Huron-Michigan, Ontario and Erie — are set to fall.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted back in May that water levels in the Great Lakes would be on track for their highest levels on record. But scientists at the federal agency are quick to note the high degree of fluctuation in water levels from year-to-year. 

“When I began my career in 1986, the lakes were at record high levels. Since then they have experienced record lows and now have returned to record highs,” Deborah Lee, director of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), said in a statement. “The lesson for us is that the lake levels will continue to fluctuate and we need to be prepared for that variability.”

Michigan, Ohio, Ontario to cut Lake Erie phosphorus to stave off algae blooms

Other Great Lakes states are seeing impacts as well, with Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio under a water advisory due to algae blooms caused by high Lake Erie levels, the Toledo Blade reports.

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.