Lake Michigan water level: “I’ve never seen the water come up that much, that fast”

Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-15 17:11:36-05

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. -- Record breaking water levels in Lake Michigan are swallowing local beaches and creating problems for local marinas. The water is up several feet since this time last year.

Typically the lake reaches its highest levels in July, but an increase in precipitation combined with the deep freeze from last winter has caused lake levels to peak during December. One area Engineer believes it’s breaking some records.

“Actually a little over three feet and that is very unusual,” said Tim Obryan, Lake Michigan office area engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Never has it happened in the history of our record keeping here of the water levels here at the Great Lakes.”

Higher water levels allow for ships to carry more cargo. The additional three feet of water allows for ships to carry another 3,600 tons per ship. In November, the Soo Locks broke a record, shipping 545,000 tons in one day, allowing the general public to buy and sell goods at a lower cost.

But along with the pluses, here are some negatives. More of the beach at Grand Haven State Park is under water, and one local marina has spent money trying to keep up with the rising water.

“Two years ago in December, my taller docks here were 84 inches out of the water,” said Styburski. Back then, Styburski spent $40,000 to lower his docks. Now, the high lake levels are almost flooding those docks, forcing him to think about spending another $40,000 to raise them.

The highest Lake Michigan has ever been was back in 1986. Those record levels destroyed the foundations for many lake front properties, causing coastal flooding and beach erosion. But to break that record, the lake would have to rise another three feet.