Experts say levels will be higher at the start of the new year than they were in 2019.
Residents of the Lake Michigan shoreline have had a rough year. As the water levels of the Great Lakes surged to record highs, homes and state parks have endured costly damage, beaches and dunes have eroded, and campgrounds and trails have had to be closed due to flooding.
Now, with warnings that water levels could get even higher in 2020, Michiganders are growing increasingly concerned.
“At some point, hopefully not for the next couple years, my house will be in danger,” South Haven homeowner Larry Scott told WSBT 22.
According to a lake level bulletin released in early December by the Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District office, water levels will be higher at the start of 2020 than they were in 2019.
Over the summer, Lake Superior, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario all set new record high water levels, while lakes Michigan and Huron tracked an inch or less off their 100-year highs, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Michigan state parks are particularly vulnerable to rising water levels. For example, County Road 107—the entrance to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park’s largest campground—is at risk of being eroded by Lake Superior’s rising levels. Recent flooding has also impacted Harrisville State Park, Muskegon State Park, McLain State Park, and Muskallonge State Park.
The full cost of repairing such damage ranges from $10 million to more than $30 million, according to official estimates. That number could increase, however, depending on what kind of havoc rising waters continue to wreak.
“The violent storms and the rainfalls and all of that has really combined together to create this situation where it looks like we’re sailing into uncharted territory with the highs and perhaps lows,” Ron Olson, chief of the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, told the Lansing State Journal.
In a typical year, Michigan state parks only receive a $20 million capital budget, the Journal reports, underscoring the financial bind the department finds itself in.
“We don’t have time to waste screwing around,” Olson said. “We’re going to have to maneuver our revenues around. We may have to delay some other projects that are of lesser importance to make room for these, depending on how critical they are.”
The record-high levels seen in 2019 were caused by heavy spring rains, according to the National Weather Service. The metro Detroit area, for example, received 5.82 inches of rain in April, nearly three inches more than the long-term average for the month.
The entire Great Lakes region received above-average levels of rain, with Chicago, Green Bay, and Muskegon, Michigan, all experiencing their wettest year-to-date ever as of Dec. 8, according to a National Weather Service analysis of data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center.
Fears of rising water levels in 2020 prompted a bipartisan group of legislators to write Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a letter earlier this month, asking her to declare a state of emergency for the counties along Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
Describing the existing damage as “truly heartbreaking,” they said an emergency declaration would allow for additional resources to reduce the damage.
“Homes have literally fallen into the lake, tremendous damage has been done at some state parks, roads have been closed because they are unsafe to drive on and businesses have had to close or have been severely affected by wind-driven water,” the lawmakers wrote.
As of Dec. 13, water levels in the Great Lakes were well above average, ranging from 14 to 36 inches above the usual December level.