How low will it go?

Like a downhill ski slope, water levels in local lakes and rivers seem to have a downward momentum.
Alex Doty
Dec 5, 2012

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data shows Lake Michigan water levels at 576.38 feet for last month. That's just shy of the record low of 576.28 feet set in 1964.

“The seasonal fluctuations are continuing downward still,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Area Engineer Tom O’Bryan. “We won’t hit rock bottom until late January or early February.”

This is causing headaches for lakefront homeowners.

“There’s less water and more grass to mow,” Spring Lake resident Louis Draeger said. “The wall I put in in the early '80s is now a retaining wall and not a seawall.”

Draeger, who has lived in the area for 40 years, said he is concerned about his ability to boat next season if water levels continue to drop.

“I don’t know whether our boat is going to float next year,” he said. “I’m not going to put in a 30-foot dock out where it’ll float.”

Dry month

According to the Corps of Engineers, the Great Lakes basin received only 39 percent of its average precipitation for the month of November. The Lake Michigan basin received 32 percent of its average precipitation for November and 87 percent of its average over the past 12 months.

The water supply for Lake Michigan was also below average last month.

A comparison of monthly mean lake levels for November to long-term average from 1918 to 2011 shows Lake Michigan was 28 inches below average last month.

The corps is advising boaters and shippers to be aware of hazards to navigation due to the low water levels.

Doing something about it, such as dredging, must first be approved by state and federal agencies. Section 10 of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 prohibits the unauthorized obstruction or alteration of any navigable water of the United States.

“A state permit is required to perform dredging in Michigan lakes, streams and rivers,” said Chris Antieau of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

A federal permit is also required if the water is governed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or federally regulated Section 10 waters, Antieau said.

“Only one application need be filled out by the applicant and submitted to the DEQ … which (the state agency) forwards to the (Corps of Engineers) to facilitate expediency and a concurrent permit review if the dredge project is located inside Section 10 waters,” Antieau said.

O’Bryan said the cost of the permitting process ranges from $50 to $100.

But don't expect the permits to be granted quickly. There are environment-related requirements that must be met in order to obtain approval.

“It’s not a 60-day process," O'Bryan said. "It is more like 180 days."

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