The seawall at Ferndale Park in Sylvan Lake shows low lake levels. That lake and nearby Otter Lake are experiencing low water levels after a gate was damaged in a dam, causing it to stay open.

The seawall at Ferndale Park in Sylvan Lake shows low lake levels. That lake and nearby Otter Lake are experiencing low water levels after a gate was damaged in a dam, causing it to stay open.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Sylvan, Otter lakes experience low water levels

By: Maddie Forshee | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 3, 2018

 A pontoon boat makes its way across Sylvan Lake July 28. The levels are currently 3 inches below normal.

A pontoon boat makes its way across Sylvan Lake July 28. The levels are currently 3 inches below normal.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

SYLVAN LAKE — Residents living on or around Sylvan Lake may have noticed low water levels while attempting to go out on the water recently.

Sylvan Lake and nearby Otter Lake are currently experiencing water levels about 3 inches lower than normal, according to the Oakland County Water Resources Commission. Cass Lake may also be affected.

Residents noticed the low water levels around July 20. 

“We have received many calls, and we have sent a letter out to residents (July 30) to explain what happened,” said Mike McMahon, of the WRC. 

McMahon said the low water levels were caused by an operating gate in a dam in one of the lakes. The dam structure is located in Dawsons Millpond, which feeds into Sylvan and Otter lakes, regulating the water level of the two lakes and the pond. 

According to McMahon, a “large piece of timber” was lodged in one of the operating gates in the dam, making it impossible to close the gate completely. The WRC was able to remove the wood after “several attempts.” 

During the time the wood was stuck, water was flowing through the gate, causing the lake levels to drop. Combined with hot weather, the water levels in the lake lowered considerably, by at least 5 inches. 

“We got the obstruction removed and got the gate closed now,” McMahon said on July 31. “It all depends on rainfall to get the water levels back up.” 

Besides hoping for rainfall, McMahon said, there’s not much residents or city officials can do to help the situation. He said anyone going out on the water should be careful. 

Jeff Thorpe, a Sylvan Lake resident, said some residents trying to go out onto the lake can’t get their boats in because the water is so low.

“The biggest concern for me is safety,” he said. “You have to be more careful where you can run aground, maybe hit stumps.” 

Thorpe said he has heard of some residents running into stumps on Otter Lake. 

“You have to be careful and go slow,” he said. In his 20 years of living in the community, he said, he can’t remember the last time the water levels got so low. 

Cleyo Harris, a fishery biologist with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, said that many of the lake levels in Oakland County are low at this time of year due to hot weather evaporating the water. 

“A lot of times, (water level) is dependent on the amount of water coming in,” he said. “Because it was so dry this year, that’s definitely one issue. (Lakes) might not be able to hold a lot of water.” 

Harris said that any marine life existing in the lakes should be able to adapt to the temporary low water levels. 

“Aquatic organisms can adapt,” he said. “If whole large parts of a lake were exposed, you can see issues with organisms like mussels. ... If there was a massive drought on the lake, that would cause other problems too.” 

Residents should direct any inquiries about the lakes to the Water Resources Commissioner’s Office at (248) 858-0958.