Lake Huron looks on track to break record

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It looks very much this year as if the Lake Huron/Lake Michigan basin will break the annual high water record set in 1986.

The Detroit office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published an updated water level outlook late last week that warns of high water, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Monthly mean water levels have been at or above historic highs throughout the first three months of 2020, mainly because of persistent wet conditions. The USACE also predicts “above normal precipitation” through June.

Among other things, rising water levels have produced notable journalism in recent months by reporters exploring the reasons for, and implications of, what’s been happening along the 10,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Michigan-based reporter Garrett Ellison’s Grand Rapids Press item, which appeared March 26 on the website, documents the remarkable water surge that has occurred since lake levels last bottomed out in 2013.

Many Michigan residents who spoke with Ellison told of their struggles to maintain and protect shore property. The rise has led to a variety of interest groups seeking to organize policy responses including government funds for shoreline repair and protection but also measures to limit water flowing into the lake from upstream.

“We’re definitely looking at another tough year,” USACE chief forecaster Lauren Fry told Ellison. “Even if we saw the driest 12-month water level sequence we’ve ever seen we’ll still be pretty well above average.”

In early January, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles by Tom Briscoe that also explores the themes of water levels and their impact on people living in the Great Lakes. Last November, Lake Huron resort operator Mark Engle showed Briscoe around his mostly submerged 175-ft. dock, a damaged boat house and bait shop at Cedarville. Engle described the frustration of trying to cope with a four-foot rise in water levels during the past three and a half years.

“I’ve been dealing with Lake Huron since 1982 and I’m afraid the lake is winning the battle,” Engle told Briscoe during his lake-by-lake exploration of water level rise.

That the changes we’ve experienced in recent years are part of climate warming seems pretty much established by now. Certainly, two leading Great Lakes researchers, Drew Gronewold and Richard Rood of the University of Michigan, seem convinced that the superior moisture-holding capacity of warm air masses has played a crucial role in recent precipitation trends.

“There’s no way we can heat the Earth, change the moisture budget and not expect it to have impact on the lake levels,” Rood told Briscoe.

The presence in our environment of so much water is bound to have an impact on our lives. Certainly last year’s wet conditions proved a challenge to planting by Ontario farmers.

That conditions so far this year are slightly improved — when compared with spring of 2019– seems one small mercy in an otherwise merciless season, plagued as it has been by COVID-19 and uncertain markets for most agricultural commodities.

As planting seasons go, this one hasn’t been too bad. Even recent cold seems within manageable limits judging by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs field crop reports as recently as May 7.

The immediate forecast includes much warmer temperatures within days. And China resumed buying corn and soybeans last week despite the persistent abuse of a distracted American president. That produced a quick response among futures traders with three up days at the Chicago Board of Trade piercing that gloomy outlook with a brief bit of brightness.