Water woes - Part 1

Editor's note: This is the first part of a three-part series on the low water levels and their impact on the area. The series will continue Monday and Tuesday. West Michigan is known as a water wonderland, but that water is rapidly disappearing.
Alex Doty
Oct 29, 2012

 

To read Part 2 of the "Water woes" series, click here.

Evidence of the dramatic water level drop is visible in Spring Lake and along the Grand River, where beaches are bigger, docks are taller and boat ramps end before reaching the water.

Lake Michigan’s water level is currently at 576.6 feet, just inches away from the record low levels set in 1964. During the next month, levels are expected to drop to a low not seen since measurements started being kept in 1912.

Nobody knows the impact of the Great Lakes drain more than those living along one of their tributaries.

Fields Halsey’s backyard falls into Spring Lake. He normally enjoys his lakefront retreat of eight years, but has recently become anxious as the water continues to drop.

He keeps close tabs on the water levels with a pole that shows where the water historically reached on his property.

"It is very shocking to me that it's getting worse than it was," he said. "I can see exposed lake bottom at the bottom of seawalls."

Along the lake, seawalls drop off to muck and mud where water previously lapped against the shore. Docks stick out like dinosaur bones, stretching from the shore to shallow depths.

"Back in the 1980s, everyone built their docks according to the water levels," Halsey said. "For me to get into my boat, I have to jump down 6 feet."

Halsey noted that this could be a problem for older mariners who might not physically be able to get into their vessels.

Earlier this month, Halsey moved his 32-foot Marinette yacht for winter storage and struggled to get it out of its shallow slip. He shoved his dock hard and revved the engines to rock the boat free from its shallow slip.

"If next summer is the same as this summer, we might not be boating," Halsey said.

Ken Larson, who lives along Stearns Bayou, is the not-so-proud owner of 12 additional feet of beach revealed gradually as water receded this summer.

"When I look out the window today, it is the lowest that it has ever been," said Larson, who has lived in the area since 1966.

In his subdivision, boathouses tower over the water and a neighbor became temporarily trapped in the muck while trying to fix a water pump.

The 72-year-old is concerned that more boats, and people, will get stuck in the muddy bayou bottoms as the water continues its downward trek. That can become dangerous.

Larson referenced an incident this past summer when a teenager drowned in Millhouse Bayou after being stuck in the muck while swimming. He uses this as a worst-case scenario of what could happen if the water levels don’t stabilize or improve.

“This is very unusual,” Larson said. “The positive is that you’ve got more land. You can’t go out there and do anything with it, but you’ve got more.”

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

 

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