Hints for high water

Marie Havenga • Jun 4, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Lake Michigan's all-time high water level for the month of May, set in 1986, is now history.

Lake Michigan beat the record by an inch, and is now 13 inches higher than it was a year ago. It is almost 5 feet higher than the record low water level of 1964, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Since Spring Lake and the Grand River are tied to Lake Michigan, the levels hit home there, too.

Many waterfront residents have docks underwater, businesses and parks have ponds in parking lots, and many lawns are saturated and soggy. And the situation isn't expected to change anytime soon, according to experts.

Ottawa County Emergency Management Director Nick Bonstell said that, depending on rain events, things could get worse before they get better.

“I think the important thing to remember is this is going to be a long-duration event,” he said. “This is nothing that's going to go down anytime soon.”

According to the National Weather Service, Lake Michigan is expected to crest in mid-July.

“We could see another couple inches of rise in Lake Michigan before that crest, and then it will be a slow decline down,” Bonstell explained. “And that's barring a big rain event. That's with average rainfall and nothing crazy.”

Bonstell suggests thinking of Lake Michigan as a big cup of water. When it's full to the top, it doesn't take much for the liquid to overflow over the sides (and into Spring Lake and the Grand River).

“That's where we're at,” he said. “That cup is full. It's all the way to the top. Any large wind events and we could see coastal and beach erosion. It's something we're going to be watching very closely now and throughout the summer.”

Although the county has not yet taken any action, Bonstell said he has been in close contact with municipal managers and fire chiefs, monitoring water levels throughout the county.

So far, one of the hardest hit areas in the county has been Channel View Drive in Spring Lake Township, according to Bonstell. Water has crested the channel banks/seawalls and spilled onto lawns. The same is happening to some properties just east of the channel on Petty's Bayou.

At this point, individual property owners are responsible for purchasing their own sand bags or doing whatever is necessary to protect their property.

Property owners should call their respective municipalities to let them know of any high-water issues. If enough homes in an area are affected, the municipality could reach out to the county for assistance.

“We would come in and look at it and determine if we would seek a local state of emergency,” Bonstell said. “This allows us to start accessing some of those flood-fighting materials. We're continuously out in the community doing preventative damage assessments, talking to homeowners, looking at water levels and communicating back to the National Weather Service.”

The Spring Lake Wooden and Classic Boat Show that was scheduled for June 1 had to be canceled because the launch ramp and dock at the village’s Mill Point Park are under water, as is a large portion of the park’s parking lot.

Bonstell said he's optimistic conditions will improve. But for now?

“I look at this period from now until the middle and late summer, we have our eyes on it,” he said. “I consider this to be a vulnerable time.”

Bonstell said that with each storm that rolls through, more red flags go up.

“I've spoken to a couple of homeowners that were out at Menard's getting sand bags, putting a top layer on their seawall,” he said. “It seems to be doing the job right now. We haven't had any reports of basements flooded, other than wet carpet here and there.”

Bonstell encourages property owners to pay attention.

“Everyone knows their own property better than anyone else,” he said. “We can't be out 24/7 driving all these properties. The biggest thing is communication — let your township or city know 'water has breached my seawall and it's getting close to my structure.' Those reports will help us look at areas of concern. Move stuff that's in your basement or lower level to higher levels. If you see water getting high, now is the time to prepare.”

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