ST. JOSEPH — While long-term forecasts are hard to predict, residents around the Great Lakes can probably expect high water levels for the foreseeable future, according to officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For the next six months, Lake Michigan levels will be the highest seen in 35 years, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology with the Corps’ Detroit office, who took part in a tele-conference call Tuesday.
Fall storms can create hazardous conditions, he warned, and people living along the lakeshore should be prepared.
Blame Mother Nature for the high water that is threatening erosion and flooding, he said.
The lake levels are largely determined by the amount of rain, snow, run-off into rivers and streams, and evaporation from the lakes that is affected by the amount of ice coverage in winter, Kompoltowicz explained. Lake Michigan-Huron saw the biggest jump in 100 years from January 2013, when levels were at their lowest, to December 2014, and levels continued to increase in 2017-18.
All of those factors have contributed to the record and near-record lake levels this year, he said. Lake Michigan came within an inch of matching the record levels set in 1986.
It’s difficult to forecast beyond six months, he said. The current projections extend until January. The water is expected to drop through the rest of the year, but will remain at very high levels.
Unless we see very dry conditions, that is likely to continue through next year, Kompoltowicz said.
Pat Kunhe, emergency manager with the Corps of Engineers, said the agency can assist with emergency measures, from technical assistance to sandbags and other barriers and pumps. When these problems arise, residents should first contact local and county emergency officials, who can then contact the Corps if needed, he said.
Some shoreline protection projects, such as seawalls or revetments using boulders to block waves, require permits from the Corps of Engineers and other agencies, according to Katie Otanez, regulatory project manager. Reviews of emergency projects usually take less than a month, she said, and projects submitted by individuals take around 120 days.
Nick Zager, the Corps’ chief of planning, said the agency is looking at long-term solutions, such as replacing sand lost to erosion.
The high water levels have swamped area beaches and piers this summer. Waves are eating into the dunes and threatening homes.
The St. Joseph City Commission is expected to discuss shoreline protections at work sessions this fall.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak