The U.S. Army Corp of engineers reported that all but one of the Great Lakes experienced record high water levels for the month of June, levels that continue to rise. The lack of long hot and dry spells continue to keep the lakes at their highest level since the Corps began recording them in 1918.
Officials at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported the overflow caused beaches to shrink, shorelines to recede, and waterfront property to flood.
On the surface, it seems like these rising levels should be causing sizable damage to industries that rely on the lakes for income.
“The increase in water levels in Michigan is great news,” said Jason Geer, director of energy and environmental policy at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “But for some business it’s creating headaches because the water is approaching the top of the seawall at their manufacturing sites, it’s eliminating hotel and recreation area beaches, and making it hard to access docks at marinas.”
Despite these apparent issues, businesses are not reporting damage to their bottom line.
“Nobody is complaining to me about it,” said Geer.
“We haven’t really been affected by the levels,” said Cindy Kauppi, who works for the King Copper Motel in Copper Harbor, Michigan. “We’ve had a little bit of beach erosion, but nothing more than usual.”
The height of the lakes seems to have caused more confusion and annoyance than anything else, but still holds the potential to cause serious damage.
“They (the rising levels) have made it interesting for everybody around here,” said Amanda Lewandowski of Charlie’s Marina in Pentwater, Michigan. “A lot of people can’t use their boats and have trouble with their docks.”
The water level is pushing marinas like Charlie’s to their limits. In this case, proper planning makes even these extreme circumstances manageable.
“It’s not really affecting our business,” Lewandowski said. “We’ve been lucky and things are pretty steady.”
Marinas employ floating docks as well as adjustable docks to combat fluctuation in water level. This makes it possible to continue operating in extreme circumstances.
“Two of our docks are floating,” said Barb Brooks, harbormaster at the F. Grant Moore Municipal Marina in Boyne City. “The rest are either adjustable or were set so high it isn’t an issue. We are still doing fine, but we are at our limit.”
Even large luxury resorts, which partially rely on providing quality beachfront experiences, have remained steady.
“This year’s high water levels haven’t affected our business,” said Grand Traverse Resort and Spa public relations manager Jillian Manning. “Though we certainly have seen our beaches shrink.”
High water have also put a damper on summer festivities. The Annual Boyne Thunder Poker Run on lake Charlevoix attracts boaters and spectators from throughout Michigan to Boyne City. The event usually kicks off with a “parade lap” around the Boyne City Municipal Marina, this year the tradition required some amending.
“Normally the boats speed up right on the water’s edge so people really see what they can do,” Brooks said. “But this year we had the parade further out in the lake. We were worried that the wake would pull docks from the shore. Not all of the spectators understood why.”
High waters can also cause dangerous conditions on the lakes, with the added hazards of unseen submerged objects. But water sport and tourism companies have experienced little issue despite the DNR’s reports of a higher volume of kayak and canoe rescues.
“We’ve been going out just as much,” said a representative for Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor. “We’ve had a great safety record for the last 25 years, and this won’t change that.”
While most businesses have things under control, the danger is still present for those planning on enjoying the lake by themselves.
Coastal business and public services have shown themselves able to protect their property from the rising waters. Time will tell if that will continue in the coming weeks.