Great Lakes are rising, according to one study

Jun 11, 2013

There are new reports that expect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron to climb nearly two feet this summer.

One comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which projects lake levels to rise by 20 inches. 

Al Steinman is the Director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University. 

Steinman attributed much of the rising water levels to significant rain this spring. 

"We've risen eight inches since April."

In a traditional cycle, lake levels rise through the spring and peak in June or July, Steinman said. This is due to runoff from melting snow and spring rains.

During the winter, specifically in November and December, water begins to evaporate. 

"In November and December, the lakes are still relatively warm because they retain the heat from the summer."

The warm(ish) water prevents ice from forming, and when Arctic cold fronts pass over the lakes, water evaporates and water levels go down.

Steinman said that in order to have comfortable water levels in the Great Lakes, ice needs to form earlier to lower evaporation rates. Above average rain for several years would also help the lakes return to a comfortable level.

Engineering solutions to stabilize water levels is something that concerns Steinman. He thinks letting the lakes adjust naturally is a safer solution in the long run.

"If you look at the hydrographs for the Great Lakes, they go up and down over time. In the late 80's,  water levels were at an all-time high. If somebody then said, 'Let's put in an engineering solution to hold up water,' they'd think they were insane."

Steinman said he is sympathetic toward individuals who have houses on the lakes and who have suffered from from low water levels, but it would be any type of engineered solution to raise water levels would be short term.

This year, water levels are already ten inches above average, due to precipitation. Though this is a good sign, he warned against putting too big an emphasis on water quantity.

"We have to consider water quality, too. If we have more major rain events, called episodic storm events, there's a lot of runoff and pollutants that goes into the runoff."

Runoff can increase eutrophication in the Great Lakes, like algal blooms, particularly in the summer months. 

"That's something we'll be keeping an eye on as well."

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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