Lake water level forecast draws mixed reaction at Boat Show

Detroit — News that water levels on some of the Great Lakes are expected to be at record highs was greeted with cheers and at least one plea for less rain Sunday at an annual boat show in Detroit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reported that Lake Superior already is near record-high levels and by May could reach a record set in the mid-1980s. Lake Erie could reach record high in late spring, according to the recent six-month forecast report by the Corps.

That's good news for boaters. For others who live near the shoreline, the prospect of high levels is worrisome.

Various types of boats are on display at the Detroit Boat Show at Cobo Center on Saturday, February 16, 2018.  

 Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

“Anyone who has been praying for rain should stop praying — stop — we have enough,” said Amy Crouchman, general manager of Toledo Beach Marina, which leases out 550 slips to boaters.

The Corps found that Lake Superior is just 2 inches below its record-high February level and Lake Erie is 7 inches below its record this month. Lakes Michigan, Huron and St. Clair won't break records but are expected to notch above average levels, the report said.

The above-normal lake levels are happening despite the Great Lakes region receiving below-average rain in January and December.

Higher levels can mean more erosion, less beach and less room for watercraft to pass under bridges. An increase in levels also could provide more clearance from underwater obstacles and help prevent the need for costly dredging of harbors.

Lake levels, dependent on precipitation and evaporation, have recovered substantially from January 2013, when lakes Huron and Michigan set record lows. 

Crouchman, who is on the board of directors for the Michigan Boating Association, said that an increase in lake levels by a couple of inches can generate flooding, especially when calculating in wind direction and strength.

“I was flooded out last year and have been unable to return to my place” in LaSalle in Monroe County, where the marina is located, said Crouchman. “The levels will eventually go down but we don’t need them any higher. It can cause some problems in the marina, even when empty, by ice freezing and damaging docks and slips.”

Rising Lake Erie levels last year during an unusual storm that brought below-freezing temperatures overnight and pushed waves over a damaged seawall. Flooding that forced evacuations hit neighborhoods in Frenchtown Township's Grand Beach and Luna Pier, southwest of Detroit and just north of the Ohio state line. 

Matt Bolt, who sells everything from Zodiac rubber rafts to Hatteras yachts for Reed Yachts on Lake Erie, had a different view of the lakes.

“People were all concerned the last couple years when lake levels were down, and it scared some people off (of boating),” said Bolt. “It hasn’t had an impact on our sales but in general, high lake levels is something we want to see.”

While official attendance records for the Boat Show at Cobo Center were not immediately available, Crouchman and Bolt reported good crowds.The show runs through Feb. 24.

Michigan is unquestionably a playground for boaters, despite a season that runs roughly from May through September,  Crouchman said.

As of Feb. 1, there were 797,821 watercraft with current registrations in Michigan, according to state records. Watercraft, according to the state, include more than boats. Excluded from that category are craft 16 feet or shorter that are propelled by oars or paddles and are not used for rental or commercial purposes, according to Shawn Starkey with the Michigan State Department.  

Other watercraft exempt from registration are non-motorized canoes and kayaks not used for rental or commercial purposes; and those registered in another state and used temporarily in Michigan.

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