Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Surging Great Lakes water levels shrink beaches, flood docks in Michigan

Lakes Erie, St. Clair and Superior broke records for average water heights during the month of May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday.

And as wet weather persists across the region, all five Great Lakes — as well as Lake St. Clair — may set additional records, the agency added, stirring concerns about ongoing flooding and shoreline erosion.

“Our June forecast shows additional record highs likely this summer," Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology, in the Corps’ Detroit District, said in a news release.

The Great Lakes Basin last month saw 21 percent more precipitation than normal, filling the lakes to levels unseen in decades. Average water heights hovered 1 to 3 inches above previous May records set in 1986.

Opinion: Climate change drives shifts between high, low Great Lakes water levels
Related: Michigan environment roundup: Great Lakes water levels could break records

Winds often affect local water levels, pushing them dramatically higher during storms, the Corps warned. Flood risks extend to communities along rivers and other channels connecting the Great Lakes.

The full lakes are breaking records just six years after low water levels bedevilled ships that haul iron ore, grain and other commodities between ports.

"These changes are a response to unusual combinations of extreme lake evaporation, persistent increases in the magnitude and intensity of precipitation events, and intermittent outbursts of cold arctic air,” a Drew Gronewold, a hydrologist with the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, said in a statement Tuesday.

Though ship captains and some marina owners welcome the recovery from low levels years ago, the flooding has shrunk beaches and left docks underwater across the Great Lakes region.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday declared an emergency in Tuscola County, which borders the Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron, after flooding washed away roads and caused millions of dollars in damage. That came one month after Whitmer declared a flooding emergency in Wayne County, which borders the Detroit River, the nexus between Lakes Erie and St. Clair. The county saw more than 3,000 homes damaged, according to media reports.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the correct location of Saginaw Bay.

August 2019: Rising waters of Lake Michigan assault Grand Traverse coast. In photos.

We're not just a news organization, we're also your neighbors

We’ve been there for you with daily Michigan COVID-19 news; reporting on the emergence of the virus, daily numbers with our tracker and dashboard, exploding unemployment, and we finally were able to report on mass vaccine distribution. We report because the news impacts all of us. Will you please donate and help us reach our goal of 15,000 members in 2021?

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now