Wet April causes water levels to rise
ARENAC COUNTY — The water levels in the Lake Huron/Lake Michigan basin rose higher than projected due to heavy precipitation and cold weather in April, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to Jim Lewis, a hydraulic engineer with the Corps, from the beginning of April to May 5, the water level rose more than nine inches, bringing it to 577.07 feet above sea level.
“The precipitation in the Lake Michigan-Huron basin was well above average,” Lewis said. “We had 180 percent of the average precipitation. There was also a warm-up during the month, and there had still been snowpack, especially in the northern end of the basin. So as temperatures rose in April, there was runoff from that snow melt.”
On average, Lewis said the Lake Michigan-Huron basin normally receives roughly 2.6 inches of precipitation, while this year it had about 4.8 inches — just shy of the record amount set in April of 1929, when the lakes received 4.96 inches of rainfall.
Furthermore, while the Corps of Engineers combines the two lakes into one basin for its records, Lewis said if taken by itself the Lake Huron basin received a record amount of precipitation in April of about 5.1 inches. The record was set in 1929, and was 4.6 inches.
He said it is more difficult to determine the full influence of cooler temperatures, but he said it kept the snow on the land longer, which led to it melting in April and causing the water levels to jump due to runoff.
In December, a hydrologist with Corp of Engineers, Keith Kompoltowicz, said cooler temperatures also help prevent water evaporation on the lakes. Last year’s hot, dry summer and warmer, dry winter caused water levels to fall to a record low in January of 576 feet above sea level.
Though the precipitation in April was a good start, Lewis said the water levels are still very low compared to historical figures.
“We’re still well below the long term average,” Lewis said. “We’ll need multiple seasons, probably more than a year, of wet conditions to reach back up to the long term average. It’s going to need to be very wet for a long time to get back to the average.”
The state of Michigan is providing $21 million for public dredging projects for marinas and boat launches to improve access to the Great Lakes in the midst of low water levels. As of May 6, the federal harbor on the Au Gres River is scheduled to receive some of those funds.
Au Gres City Manager Pat Killingbeck said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is associated with the harbor, and the city is only providing a site where spoils from the river can be placed. She expected work to begin at some point in the spring.