Concerns rise as lakes fall

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:02 PM

According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, Lake Michigan reached a record average low water level of 576.07 feet above sea level this month. The previous low was 576.1 feet in 1965.

“Is there any water?” said Spring Lake Township Supervisor John Nash, who also serves as president of the Spring Lake Lake Board. “At my dock, the water is way past the dock. I’ve never seen it like that.”

Nash noted that the decrease in water levels has an impact on the local economy, as every inch of water lost results in increased shipping costs.

In addition to the costs for goods and service, Nash said water-related tourism might also be impacted.

“You look at the Tri-Cities economy — it is based on recreation,” he said.

The shrinking water, despite adding to the shore, could significantly impact the revenue generated for local municipalities and school districts from property taxes, Nash said.

“If you lived in Spring Lake Township and my property value went down, the total collected taxes went down,” he said. “If nothing changes, there are a whole lot of prayers that aren’t working.”

Verle Winningham, a resident on Spring Lake since 1998, said the shore might be increasing as the water recedes, but it's not always good land.

“Just a few years ago, we'd watch lake water splash over the 7-foot seawall onto our backyards when passing boats' wakes would hit the wall,” he said. “Now, we've got 25 feet of new mud.”

Continued low water levels will impact this summer's boating season and how the lake is used, Winningham said.

"For instance, my neighbor's boat isn't coming off of his boatlift anytime soon, and mine won't be going onto our lift unless the water level rises,” he explained. “I doubt that I will be able to dock in either of my slips next summer, so I'm considering in-out service for the 2013 season.”

The added costs for boaters are on top of other improvements that have been made as a result of the low water.

“Our boat lift was actually installed about 20 feet closer to the seawall — but as the water level kept declining, it became unusable,” Winningham said. “Around 2002, we paid a couple thousand (dollars) to have the entire lift assembly moved into deeper water.”

The costs didn’t stop there, as Winningham also paid a few hundred dollars in 2005 to have the lake around his docks dredged. He later paid to have the dock lowered in order to maintain access to their boat and the lake.

“Presuming this is just cyclical, that we get a wet spring and that the water level rebounds, the whole situation is interesting and only modestly inconvenient,” Winningham said. “If this is the ‘new normal,’ there are definite financial concerns.”

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