Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair expected to continue breaking water level records

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Michigan's Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair are poised to set records for high water levels throughout the year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer projections.

The Corps Detroit District's watershed hydrology office released its monthly bulletin this week recording the water levels for January-to-June and monthly projections for the second half of this year.

Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of the Detroit District's watershed hydrology office, told The Detroit News Monday "Going back to 1918," when the Army Corps began keeping records, "the levels have never been higher."

Between July and September, all of the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair are expected to reach or break records set as early as 1950 and several records set in 1986. That's when Michigan and Huron — considered one body of water by the Army Corps of Engineers — St. Clair and Erie reached their highs. Superior hit its high-water mark in 1985, and Ontario peaked in 2017.

High water and erosion have collapsed the break wall on the shore of Lake St. Clair along Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe Shores. June 2, 2019.

Great Lakes water levels historically fluctuate because of rainfall, increasing runoffs into tributaries and evaporation from the lakes’ surfaces, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Corps' projections are based on the present condition of the lake basin and anticipated future weather.

Lakes St. Clair, Erie and Ontario set all-time records in June for high water levels. Lake Superior, meanwhile, hit its high-water mark for June but fell short of the all-time record set in October 1985.

"We are in above record territory," said Alex Manion, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. "We peaked in Lake St. Clair and there's potential to peak above for Lake Huron or get very close... but there's also lots of uncertainty."

The bulletin also included the monthly mean water level forecast for the second half of this year.

Lakes Superior and Erie set new monthly mean high water levels in May, as did nearby Lake St. Clair. The water kept rising in June and is expected to do so for the three lakes through September.

Gary Morris of River Rouge gets his boat to the boat launch which is partially underwater at Elizabeth Park in Trenton, Monday.

"The average has it peaking this month and then we are going to finally see some relief in the coming months, but it will still be above average," Manion said.

The projections could mean elevated lakeshore flooding, property damage to homes and businesses, basement floods and impact fishing and shipping industries.

"We're already at the peak so we're just at this annoying time where anything could happen at a time when we need lake levels to go down," said Kevin Kacan, a meteorologist with the NWS in White Lake Township. 

"Especially because of lakeshore flooding," Kacan added. "It depends on the wind and speed direction. Right now, we have lakeshore flooding in Saginaw Bay, but with the water levels as high as they are, it doesn't take much."

July lake levels

Water levels remain high across the Great Lakes. As of Friday, according to the Army Corps' weekly Great Lakes Water Level update, lakes Michigan-Huron, Erie, Ontario and St. Clair are all up between 31-35 inches from their monthly averages. Superior was up 14 inches.

This week's water levels are an increase of 4 inches on both Lakes Michigan-Huron and St. Clair, a 2-inch increase on Lake Erie and a 1-inch increase on Lake Superior. Lake Ontario is an inch below its level a month ago.

Experts predict Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron will increase 3 and 2 inches by August 5, while Lake St. Clair is expected to stand still. Lakes Erie and Ontario are expected to decline 2 and 10 inches, respectively, over the next month.

Outflows from Lake Superior through the St. Mary’s River, and Lake Michigan-Huron’s outflow into the St. Clair River are projected to be above average in July, according to the Corps' bulletin. 

Lake St. Clair’s outflow through the Detroit River is also forecast to be above average. Lake Erie’s outflow through the Niagara River and Lake Ontario’s outflow through the St. Lawrence River are predicted to be above average for July.