Record highs projected for Lakes Michigan and Huron in summer

Lake Michigan and Huron will see water levels rise 10 inches above average levels recorded at the same time last year and 2 inches higher than the highest monthly average on record for May.

The forecast came as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Detroit found new record high monthly mean water levels were set on lakes Michigan and Huron, St. Clair and Erie.

Water levels forecast for May 1 were above their levels of one year ago for lakes Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie, while lakes Superior and Ontario are below last year's levels, according to the Army Corps. 

The levels on lakes Michigan and Huron, which are measured as one body of water, and St. Clair and Erie are predicted to be 10, 2, and 3 inches, respectively, above their levels last year.

The rising lake levels and the threat of the loss of lake-front property have homeowners "scrambling," said Keegan McManes, who owns Morrison Lake Construction, a seawall building company out of Clarksville.

"If you lost 30 to 40 feet of beach and you only had (an) 100-foot yard, you might not have any yard left," he said. 

Once lakefront property is lost to the lake, McManes said, state environmental regulations restrict what homeowners can do to reclaim the land.

Dave Miller instructs his son, Owen, 14, both of St. Clair Shores, as they take their maiden voyage on their 1955 Clyde Runabout vessel that was made in Detroit. They were at the Blossom Heath Boat Launch and Piers in St. Clair Shores, May 1.

The lake level projections signal that Michigan property owners could continue to combat bluff and shoreline erosion, damage to coastal infrastructure and flooding. The rising lake levels represent long-term challenges for a region that has faced swings of the lakes' extreme highs and lows. 

Levels surged in the 1980s before dropping sharply in the 2000s.

"We're so busy ... it just seems like we can't keep up," McManes said. "It's just devastating what some of these homeowners are going through. ... Unfortunately, it's quite expensive (to install a seawall)." ​​​​​

Leland's Fishtown, where some shanties along the Leland River were closed last spring due to flooding, is threatened by Lake Michigan's increasing water levels.

The latest high-level reports from the Army Corp follow record or near-record levels set on the Great Lakes last year. 

For April, new record high monthly mean water levels were set on Lake Michigan and Huron, St. Clair and Erie, according to a May report from the Army Corps.

The levels, the report found, surpassed previous records by 3-4 inches, which were set in 1986 on Lakes Michigan, Huron and St. Clair, and in 1985 on Lake Erie.

Doug Minidis of Woodhaven, carries his kayak through a flooded parking lot as he prepares to use the kayak launch at Elizabeth Park in Trenton, May 1, 2020.

Lakes Michigan and Huron will trend upward beginning in May. Rising levels are expected through August before dipping in September and October, according to the Corps' projections.

All of the lakes experienced a rise in water levels from March to April. Lake Superior rose 2 inches from March to April, while Lakes Michigan, Huron and St. Clair rose 3 inches. Lakes Erie and Ontario also rose by 4-6 inches, respectively, from March to April. 

With waters unusually high in Lake Huron, pieces of old shipwrecks have been washing ashore at Bayview Park in Alpena.

The Corps has been emphasizing higher lake levels to be better prepared given record-breaking water levels in 2019.

Water levels on lakes Erie and Superior set records for four months straight going into the fall. Lake St. Clair also set all-time highs for several consecutive months.

"(Homeowners are) faced with do 'I lose my house, or do I spend a fortune to save my shoreline,'" McManes said. "It's just tough just to keep up and to be able to keep up with all this work for customers who are kind of between a rock and a hard place."