Great Lakes Coalition 2019 Annual Membership Meeting

With lake levels being at near-record highs and with erosion and property damages mounting, residents are searching for reasons and for solutions.  Why have water levels that were at record lows just a few years ago risen so rapidly, and to near-record levels?  What kind of solutions or assistance can we hope for from the state, federal government, Corps of Engineers?  Coalition President Joe Milauckas of Saugatuck opened the meeting by giving a history of how and why the Coalition was formed back in 1986 during another devasting high water period.  The Coalition has been instrumental in voicing members' concerns to the Internation Joint Commission and to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Coalition Vice President Roger Smithe of Manistee then talked about the fluctuating water levels over the years, asking who had previously installed shoreline protection, and who now needs shoreline protection.  He described the workings of the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the International Lake Superior Board of Control (ILSBC), an agency of the IJC, whose responsibility is regulating the outflow from Lake Superior into Lake Michigan-Huron.  Supposedly the ILSBC has no control over Lake Michigan levels but there are several things they could do to stem the flow.  These measures were recommended by the IJC in the past but have never been implemented:

1.  Reverse the flow of the Long Lac-Ogoki rivers in Canada back into Hudson Bay.

2.  Increase the Chicago Diversion.

3.  Remove obstructions accommodating marinas in the Niagara River.

4.  Refurbish and reopen the Black Rock Lock.

5.  Increase outflow in the Welland Canal.

Vice President Smithe concluded his presentation by stating that we need your help.  Voice your concerns and document your erosion conditions to the IJC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and the representative from your district.  Search their websites and you can contact them in the message boxes provided.

President Milauckas then introduced Melissa “Missy” Kropfreiter, P.E., Hydrology Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District Office.  Ms. Kropfreiter stated that the Corps has been collecting lake level data for 100 years now.  Record high level was set in 1986.  The record low level was set in January 2013.  That winter had very little ice cover causing much evaporation.  We are now at almost-record highs and the water has risen fast.  Why?  The ice cover plays a role in evaporation and water temperature.  The last two years had good ice cover thereby limiting evaporation.  Precipitation also plays a role and 2018 was the wettest year on record with 2019 also being very wet – there is a lot of water in the system.  She described the “net basin supply” which consists of Evaporation plus Precipitation plus Runoff plus inflow from upstream (St. Marys River from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan-Huron) minus outflow (Chicago Diversion).  Lake levels are lowest in winter, start to rise in Spring with melting and runoff, peak during the summer months and start to lower in the Fall with evaporation.   Ms. Kropfreiter stated that the International Joint Commission regulates, the Corps executes.  She also recommended contacting the IJC and government officials to make our voices hears.  As far as dealing with Mother Nature, implement adaptive management.