As the big lake drops below 576.6 feet, a concern arises among residents and ecology experts that there could be dire changes to the area’s watery landscape.
Along with changes to the landscape, there are innumerable impacts to people’s pocketbooks and the economy. Chief among them are an increased need for expensive dredging, a potential decline in boating tourism and real estate issues.
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Spring Lake Township resident Fields Halsey has lived on Spring Lake for the past eight years and has never seen the lake as low as it is now.
Halsey said he is deeply concerned about the possible economic impact that may arise.
The Tri-Cities area is flooded with an estimated $86.7 million in tourism dollars per year, much of it during the boating season. A portion of that money could float away, Halsey said, if boaters set sail for other areas.
With the current lake levels, Halsey had to gun the engine of his Marinette cruiser in order to free it from its slip while en route to winter layup. Halsey noted that if conditions continue to worsen, boating may be more difficult next season.
"The economic impact of it is harsh," he said. "It's going to be very expensive potentially, not just for me, but everyone at the lake."
As a resident, Halsey will likely have to spend thousands of dollars to improve his own boating situation.
"If this doesn't come back up, I'm going to have to spend at least $2,500 to dredge the lake so my boat sits in the slip," he said.
Marjorie Viveen, who has lived along the Grand River near Millhouse Bayou for 20 years, also expressed concerns.
“We have a dock that cantilevers over the river. At one point, we floated a 33-foot boat off of that dock,” she said. “Now, if you look down, it’s dirt.”
Viveen said that instead of paying the cost of storing the boat elsewhere, she and her husband, William, decided enough was enough.
“It has since been sold because we ran into problems like this,” she said.
They’re not the only ones making pocketbook decisions based on water levels.
“We’ve had to dredge twice this past fall,” North Shore Marina general manager Jill Kinkema said.
The total cost to scoop out the channels reached $25,000.
“And we didn’t dredge the entire marina,” she said. “It’s not cheap (but) we need to keep the waterways open for our customers.”
Kinkema said that the price of dredging depends on the amount of material that needs to be cleared, and whether the sediment needs to be disposed of in an environmentally safe way due to contamination.
While marina officials aren’t planning to make improvements to the fixed dock system at this point, they are keeping a close eye on the situation. The marina also boasts a floating dock system that moves with the water level, and she said they noticed an 18-inch drop in a 30-day period this summer.
“It hasn’t been a crisis for us yet, but you certainly have to do what you have to do,” Kinkema said.
In Grand Haven, city officials are planning a second phase of the city marina redevelopment project to deal with lower water levels at its municipal dockage.
"One of two main project elements (is) dredging for protecting the floating docks and to provide a reasonable slip depth," Grand Haven Project Manager Julie Beaton said.
The city also plans to dredge its Harbor Island boat launch.
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.