Water levels near historic lows

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:43 AM

“We are down 7 inches from this time last year,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Area Engineer Tom O’Bryan. “And we weren’t doing all that well last year, to be honest.”

The average water level for Lake Michigan this week was 577 feet, and it’s only expected to drop.

“We might hit an all-time low for Lake Michigan this fall,” O’Bryan said.

The recorded all-time low came during the 1960s, when the Corps measured the lake at 576 feet in 1964. The government has kept record of lake levels since 1860.

Boater and residents alike are feeling low about the situation.

Residential, commercial fallout

Grand Haven Township resident Deborah Chasco, who lives along the Grand River, said she has noticed the low water levels first-hand.

“We’ve been here five years on the river,” she said. “It is the lowest I’ve seen it.”

Chasco said that’s the reason her family is putting an end to the summer boating season in the next few days. Her boat scrapes the river’s edge, and there’s a nearly 3-foot drop from her dock to the boat below.

“We’re pulling our boat out this weekend because we don’t have enough dock,” Chasco said. “We need a good, hard winter and a wet spring.”

On Spring Lake, Spring Lake Township resident Tom Bishop said he’s deeply concerned with the lower than normal water levels.

“It is down an awful lot,” he said. “I am almost on the bottom with my boat.”

While people are still able to swim, Bishop noted that it has impacted the natural beauty of the lakefront.

“It’s not very inviting looking up around the shoreline,” he said. “It doesn’t look like it is going to come up. It just has not been good this year.”

Commercial boating has also taken a hit.

O’Bryan said for freighters that are 600 feet long, they lose 100 tons of cargo for every inch of water lost, and 1,000-foot freighters lose 247 tons of cargo for every inch of water lost.

“We all end up paying for that,” he said. “It costs more when you can’t deliver as much.”

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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