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Great Lakes waters levels rise from recent lows

Great Lakes levels have risen this summer from record lows in January — which is good news for boaters — but another dry summer could land them back at square one.

“This year we had good winter ice pack and good snow melt, [so] the Great Lakes levels are higher this year than they’ve been in a number of years, particularly the upper Great Lakes,” BoatUS director of technical services Beth Leonard told Trade Only Today. “But we had gone through about three years of below-average rainfall and quite severe drought last year and the year preceding.”

Leonard called the downward trend in levels “astonishing.”

Last year, lakes Michigan and Huron reached their lowest water levels since record-keeping began in 1918, according to data from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are seeing less striking-submerged-object damage claims this year than we saw in the summers before, so we do seem to be in a bit of reprieve right now,” Leonard said. “We still don’t have any reserves. If we have another dry summer we’ll be right back where we were last year.”

The situation had been so dire that in February the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued an emergency dredging plan in 58 locations, saying Lake Erie was 21 inches lower than it had been just one year prior.

“We’ve seen a much greater seasonal rise than we did a year ago,” Keith Kompoltowicz, the Army Corps of Engineers’ chief of watershed hydrology, told the Detroit News. “We had more snow buildup throughout the Great Lakes Basin, particularly in the northern region. And then we had an unbelievably wet spring.”

Lake Superior typically experiences a seasonal rise of a foot, but this year the number was closer to 20 inches. Likewise, lakes Michigan and Huron normally have an 11-inch increase, but the wet weather drove that figure to about 20 inches. Although lakes St. Clair and Erie last year experienced almost no seasonal rise, both this year had an increase of almost 2 feet.

Kompoltowicz told the Detroit News that it will take six months of above-average wet weather to get the lakes back to their normal levels.

— Reagan Haynes