Higher Lake Michigan water levels affect beaches, boaters
Chicago — Lake Michigan water levels are up, making beaches smaller but helping boaters.
Steve Hungness, chief of operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chicago District, said water levels are roughly a foot above the 90-year average.
It’s in contrast to water levels for Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in 2013, which were 2 feet below average, The (Waukegan) News-Sun reported. The two lakes are measured together because the Straits of Mackinac connect them.
“That’s almost a 4-foot difference between today,” Hungness said. “Right now, the lake is closest to being the highest it’s ever been — it’s the highest it’s been for the last 12 years.”
Water levels change with rainfall and the amount of water that a Lake Superior dam lets out, Hungness said. Evaporation also plays a part, he said, with the process getting sped up by hot summers or lessened by thick ice.
Waukegan Harbor general manager Gregg Pupecki says water is high enough that a ladder isn’t necessary to get down to a boat at the permanent docks. Freighters are able to transport more materials with the water higher.
“It creates a larger depth for them, they can put more material on them,” Pupecki said.
Hungness said there’s a “smaller beach visible” with lake levels higher. “For many years, people were used to having a wider beach because the lake levels were down,” he said.
Waukegan Alderman Lisa May says that for people who have gotten accustomed to having a big beach, the water levels can be unsettling.
“We love our north beach,” May said. “We played soccer and baseball down there.”
May says with the smaller open stretch of sand, people don’t play sports on the beach anymore.
“We have the dunes grass coming from the west and the water levels coming from the east,” May said. “There’s 10 to 20 feet of beach. It’s pretty amazing how much it has changed in the last year.”