Guest Blog: Addressing the Great Lakes’ Rising Water Levels

Posted on August 28, 2019 by Dene Westbrook

The Great Lakes are a wonderful asset to the State of Michigan.  They provide great vistas and beaches to help bolster tourism in the State.  Unfortunately, these same Great Lakes can wreak havoc when their water levels are higher than ever, as they are now.  They are going to continue to rise according to scientists from the University of Michigan, USACE, and National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.

The high Great Lakes water levels:

  • erode, if not totally eliminate access to the beaches of city and state parks
  • flood marinas, launch ramps, roads, and bridges
  • promulgate “mini tsunamis” that engulf/weaken city piers and docks
  • create dangerous rip tides that overpower swimmers
  • eliminate shoreline in front of cottages

What is happening in your community?  Please tell us.

The high Great Lakes water levels will also impact the budgets of communities along the lakeshore.  Communities will be forced to spend money to protect their beaches from erosion and debris (trees, floating clumps of dune grass, etc.).   They will need to spend money to repair roads, boat launches, and marinas. And communities will, unfortunately, need to adjust property values along the lakeshore to account for the loss of beaches in front of cottages.

As communities and property owners build or repair seawalls, piers, and boat launches, they will require permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (formerly known as the Department of Environmental Quality) and the US Army Corps of Engineers Office in Detroit (USACE).   The few staff in EGLE and USACE that handle the permits are overwhelmed. There is currently a 3-month wait to process new permit requests.  In the meantime communities and property owners are left in the lurch.   Urge the Governor and your legislators and Congressional Delegation to increase the number of staff that process permits.

Communities may be able to get some help from the US Army Corps of Engineers.  The USACE is authorized to lend/issue emergency flood fighting supplies. USACE has provided communities such as Detroit, Bay City and many others with sandbags and other supplies.  If a flood situation is beyond local interests’ capabilities, communities may request flood fight assistance by calling your State Emergency Management Office at (517) 241-8000.  Your community may be eligible for Federal Disaster Relief funds.  Access to the funds will require support from the Office of the Governor.

In the meantime communities along the shorelines should begin planning for long term issues regarding rising lake levels.  What roads, parks and other city property are vulnerable?  What shoreline property will be most vulnerable?  Educate the public and elected officials of the impact continued rising water levels of the Great Lakes will have on your community. Let them help determine solutions.

Ron Wilson, Manistee Ron is a member of the Great Lakes Coalition Board of Directors. He received his MS degree in Natural Resource Policy from the University of Michigan.  He has spent 20 years as a lobbyist for the City of Lansing and worked with Lana Pollack (IJC) to enact the Sand Dunes Preservation Act. 

You can learn more about the Great Lakes Coalition here.

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