Big Lake water level a half-inch below all-time June record

The St. Joseph River begins to wash over the south pier in St. Joseph last month as Lake Michigan water levels have risen to almost record levels.

The average water level on Lake Michigan-Lake Huron was less than an inch last month from the all-time June record, while other Great Lakes set new records for June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District reported.

“With another wet month across the Great Lakes basin, water levels continued to rise in June and have reached some of the highest levels in our recorded history, which dates back to 1918,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of Watershed Hydrology, Detroit District.

Southwest Michigan residents have felt this rise as erosion along the lakeshore and tributaries worsens and beaches have disappeared.  

New record high monthly mean water levels were set on Lake Superior, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in June. The new record June levels are between three and four inches higher than the previous records for the month, which were set in 1986 on Lakes Superior, St. Clair and Erie, and in 2017 on Lake Ontario. The records for lakes St. Clair, Erie and Ontario are the highest for any month dating back to 1918. Additional record high water levels are possible on all the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair this summer, the Corps said.

Lake Michigan-Huron saw its highest June levels in 1986, and its lowest in 1963. The lakes are viewed as one lake for measurement purposes, because of the free-flowing connection at the Straits of Mackinac.

The June 2019 average water level for Lake Michigan-Huron was 581.75 feet, and the record average June water level is 581.79 feet. The lake missed setting a new record June water level by about a half inch, representing 480 billion gallons of water.

Wet weather continued in June, which allowed water supplies to the lakes to remain high. June was the third consecutive month with above average precipitation across the Great Lake basin as a whole. This persistently wet weather has also allowed stream flows into the Great Lakes to remain well above average for this time of year.

Most of the basin had near normal rainfall with the exception of the Lake Michigan-Huron watershed, which saw a significant storm system track west to east along a line from Milwaukee to Toronto, the Corps stated.

Last week forecasters predicted Lake Michigan-Huron would hit its peak level sometime this month and then begin to decline through the fall.

“This spring water levels remain high across the Great Lakes. During the spring, the lakes tend to rise due to increased precipitation and increased runoff as result of snowmelt,” according to the Corps of Engineers. “In the fall, the lakes generally fall due to an increase in evaporation as temperatures cool off and the cold air moves over the relatively warm lake waters.”

The all-time high for Lake Michigan-Huron was set in 1986. 

The Great Lakes region will continue to see the threat of coastal flooding and shoreline erosion, especially during storm events. Localized water levels are often impacted by winds and can be significantly higher during storms. Water levels and flow rates in the connecting channels of the Great Lakes are also high and may, depending on winds and other atmospheric conditions, lead to localized flooding. 

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