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Water levels continue to fall, despite recent heavy rain

Waterlevels1
Mike Krebs | Traverse City Record Eagle
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A kayaker sets out from Medalie Park on Friday.

According to the National Weather Service in Gaylord, the Traverse City Area received about 8 inches of rain in the past 30 days, three of those inches fell last weekend.

This time last summer, many docks, beaches and roads near the Grand Traverse Bay were underwater when levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their highest since the 1980s.

According to the National Weather Service in Gaylord, the Traverse City Area received about 8 inches of rain in the past 30 days, three of those inches fell during the past weekend. Still, experts say the downpours won’t dramatically alter the water levels offshore.

Low precipitation in the past year points to average water levels returning. Scientists like Michigan Sea Grant educator Mark Breederland examined the trend in the spring, as the lakes entered a transition period to the summer months.

After the record-setting high marks, however, the water still has some space to fall.

“We are still definitely higher than average,” Breederland said. “But we are nowhere near the top of the skyscraper where we were last year because that set all the records.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers measurements show Lakes Michigan and Huron still are 16 inches above the long-term July average. Breederland said last summer peaked at about 20 inches above average.

He said the lower levels are tied to the lighter-than-usual snowfall during last winter and the severe drought from earlier in the summer. While July and August typically bring water level peaks annually, Breederland said he expects this year’s maximum rise to be 3 or 4 inches.

If the upcoming cold months are as forgiving with snow and rain as last year, Breederland said, it’s likely the water levels will return to their “sweet spots.”

Heather Smith of The Watershed Center in Grand Traverse Bay affirmed that lake levels are a direct result of precipitation, runoff and evaporation out of basin transfers.

“When we have, back-to-back, really heavy precipitation years, we tend to get high lake levels. When things dry out a little bit, we tend to see lake levels recede,” Smith said.

Smith expects erosion conditions to be milder than what property owners and land managers faced in 2020. However, she said severe storms can change conditions day-to-day.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Smith said. “Reminding our communities that lakes are really variable, that we really need to prepare ourselves for the extremes and become as resilient as we can is important to remember.”

Breederland said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release its monthly lake level data sets next week.