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Article By Jim Barta, Heritage Newspapers

I don't know about you, but I'm still scratching my head wondering what's happened to all the water in the Great Lakes.

I've heard all the statements from the so-called experts about how this is just a natural swing of water levels, but we seem to have been swinging downward for an awful long time now.

And it's not like the news gets any better!

From the look of things, the last couple seasons gave us just a taste of what we may have to deal with yet again this year.

Low water levels across Michigan continue to produce more than a few boating problems.

Damage to lower units on boats caused by rocks and other bottom-hugging structure cost boat owners and insurance companies tens of thousands of dollars.

Depending on who you talk to, theories on why we're facing these problems change slightly.

Researchers claim that the series of warm winters that we experienced a few years ago coupled with a lack of heavy summer rain is a primary contributor.

According to them, when temperatures stay above freezing, ice fails to form over the Great Lakes and without a blanket of ice to cover such large bodies of water, huge volumes evaporate and are lost.

Occasionally, some of this water is recovered in the form of snow, but even then, much of it falls inland and is lost as it's absorbed into the ground.

Even though we continue to receive snow each winter, there's yet another reason why little of it directly benefits water levels.

Much of what has fallen is the result of evaporation from the Great Lakes.

This moisture is referred to as "lake effect" precipitation and simply won't replenish our waterways.

What will be required to raise water levels are large amounts of snow derived from moisture located outside of our region.

Lately, our state's annual snowfall has been on a steady decline.

In recent years, accumulations of snow have averaged 15 percent to 40 percent below Michigan's 30-year average.

Now I'm not a big fan of shoveling deep drifts of the stuff, but then I hate having a boat out of commission even more.

Another theory that may contribute in part to our recent water depths deals with the reversal of water that once flowed into our Great Lakes, but now flows out.

For example, at one time the Chicago River flowed into Lake Michigan. Today, due to efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers, the water's course has been reversed.

Water now flows from the lake and winds its way into the Mississippi.

Canada has also reversed the tide of water that once flowed into our system.

Several tributaries that, at one time, found their way into the St. Lawrence Seaway have been reconstructed by Canada's equivalent to our Army Corps of Engineers and redirected out.

Personally, I doubt if this theory is much more than lip service because these reversal plans started taking place the late 1920s and early '30s. Since that time, we've experienced periods of varied water levels, some of which reached record highs.

Conditions today are a far cry from those experienced by residents with waterfront homes or those located along canals in 1975.

At that time water depths were 40 inches above their present level.

Homeowners banded together to protect their property from ensuing floods, even if it meant eliminating scenic beaches in front of their homes by building unsightly dikes and barriers.

Sandbag dams and expensive breakwalls were constructed anywhere necessary to stop rising water conditions.

Residents assumed this work and danger as simply the price of living near the water.

The cost of living there has certainly changed!

Today, many of these same homeowners can't even get their boats to float in areas that once threatened their homes with flooding.

But, just as when water conditions were high, few of these residents would live anywhere else.

It's nice to be able to walk out your back door and view the boat as it sits at your own dock. Even if this year you may be able to plant a garden around it, it's still worth it.

Published Jan. 29 On-Line @ The View Newspaper

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Nice info on lake levels. Take last winter, the lakes were frozen most of the witner and it didn't seem to help the level all that much. The theory of evaporation seems some what hard to believe. Perhaps it all depends on how much they keep in Lake Superior and the Mississippi river? I sure miss stepping off my swim platform and onto the dock.

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I really don't understand what all the whining about "low water" levels is all about. I'm relativley new to the area, so I don't know what it was like in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. But I can look a the historical lake level data, and that what everyone thinks is a normal level in the 70s and 80s was actually 2 -3 feet higher that the long term average. There were were record high water levels during that time. Check it out:

Lake St Clair water levels

The 3 summers that I've been boating here, the levels have been below average, but no more that 1 foot below average, at its worst, 2 summers ago! Heck, people think that the lake is low now!! But measurements show that it's less than 6" below the average for this time of year.

Again, I don't get it. Lake St Clair is by nature a VERY shallow lake. Always will be. Get used to it!

I think it's because of the drastic drop that happened around 1999-2000. The lake had been above average since 1970 and the level spiked up in 1997. In 97 and 98 there was literally no beach at Gull Is., just the trees and reeds were above water. Then the water dropped something like 5 feet in 2 years, which is nothing to some people, but pretty extreme if you were here for it. We have friends with a house on a lake in Tennessee where the lake level rises and falls 35-40 feet every year and people in tidal waters have to deal with that every day. I've been on the lake since 93 (fished on the Canadian side as a kid though) and before the drop, never knew or needed to know about Sand Is. I also remember misjudging where the cut between Fisher Bay and the Sni and cutting over where there is land on the chart. I stayed on plane and never hit bottom.

Another reason to complain about it is that a lot of docks were built when the water was high and unless you have a big (or at least tall) boat, you've got a big step up to 90% of the docks on the lake.

Personally I subscribe to the "they let the water out through Chicago to keep the Mississippi River high enough for the barge traffic" theory.

QUOTE(damn yankee @ Jan 31 2004, 08:45 AM)I really don't understand what all the whining about "low water" levels is all about.
DY: I don't think anybody here is whining!!

Bill272 makes very good points.

I think that this is good conversation. I would love to be able to go from Muskamoot Bay directly to the middle channel without having to go around Sand island. I see people do it a lot. Doesn't mean I will. Lake st. Clair really isn't the big problem I think either. I look at lake Michigan shore lines that are 30-50 feet out from where it originally was before. And hear about folks selling there boats because they can't use them because of low water in front of there house. That is a crying shame.

Yes, we will deal with low water over here on our little pond, but I think it the bigger picture that is the problem.
The water levels effect not only boaters, but the buisness' that strive to survive in the summer months. Maybe we would see more bars, stores and attractions on this lake if the levels were up more? I think we would! I think more water means more people boating.

Keep the good conversation coming

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QUOTE(Convincor @ Jan 31 2004, 10:38 AM)QUOTE(damn yankee @ Jan 31 2004, 08:45 AM) I really don't understand what all the whining about "low water" levels is all about.
DY: I don't think anybody here is whining!!

I didn't mean anyone in this thread or any other. When I'm on/around the lake I hear about low water alot.

My point is, the water level is not too far off what it historical average has been.
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