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 Sandbags line the Lange Street Canal in St. Clair Shores.

Sandbags line the Lange Street Canal in St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Record-high lake levels discussed

Seasonal decline expected for Lake St. Clair

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published October 25, 2019


MACOMB COUNTY — Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes hit record highs above sea level in 2019, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that high levels can be expected into 2020 as well.

Many variables influence water levels, said Deanna Apps, a physical scientist with the Army Corps of Engineers, speaking to a group sponsored by the Nautical Mile Merchants Association at Blossom Heath Inn in October. Those variables include precipitation, runoff, surface water temperature and ice cover.

“Those are some of the things that we’re tracking that are going to be influencing water levels,” she said. “We’ve been above, near and above, records on high monthly levels for Lake St. Clair.”

So far in October, she said that all of the lakes are below record levels, which is to be expected as the fall season progresses.

Apps explained that the Great Lakes basin goes through periods of high and low water levels, with high water in the late 1990s and then low water levels for about a decade starting in the early 2000s.

“Beginning in 2013, we’ve really seen more of (a) wet pattern in the region, and over the course of the last six to seven years, we’ve seen water levels rise,” she explained. “Across the Great Lakes, it’s been throughout the whole system.”

 Annually, she said, the system experiences cycles as well.

“In the wintertime, usually we see the lakes at their lowest point ... and then in the spring as that snow begins to melt, we get a lot of rain (and) we start to see the (rising levels). In the summer, usually late summer, we start to see the lakes peak. In the fall, when you start to get that cool air over (the) relatively warm lake air, you start to see that evaporation,” she said. “We’re starting to see lake levels decline across the basin (because of evaporation).”

October 2014 through September 2019 have been the wettest on record in the Great Lakes basin, Apps said, and January through September 2019 was the wettest period Michigan has been in 125 years.

Looking ahead, the Army Corps expects Lake Superior to be close to the record highs it experienced in 2019 going into 2020, with a “very similar story across all the Great Lakes.”

“We’re starting to experience a little bit of a decline. September was, obviously, very wet in the region. During the month of September, we did see some rises in Lake Michigan/Huron due to the wet conditions we experienced,” Apps said, explaining that the Army Corps groups Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together as one lake because of the Straits of Mackinac connection. The lakes are “expected to remain above last year’s levels going into 2020.”

Lake St. Clair is also expected to experience a seasonal decline into the winter, but with levels still above last year and near records heading into 2020.

“Water levels, even looking out further than six months, (are) still expected to stay very high and likely above average,” Apps said.

Donna Flaherty, president of the Nautical Mile Merchants Association, said that businesses along the Nautical Mile in St. Clair Shores were impacted by the 2019 high water, which is why she asked Apps to come speak to residents, city leaders and business owners.

“There is so much buzz about the water levels and, also, our city has really worked hard this past summer for both residents and business owners,” she said. “I felt it was our responsibility to bring awareness.”

Flaherty said that she and other business owners along the Nautical Mile were especially concerned with the rising level of Lake St. Clair in July.

“The marinas experienced covered wells where they had to turn off the power,” she said. “Various business owners, including myself, the canals are behind and, of course, sandbagging was taken care of, but the concern was that it would still rise.”

Flaherty said that she hopes to be able to provide an update from the Army Corps in the spring as well.