You may have noticed the water level in Lake Michigan is a lot higher than it has been in previous years. The past fifteen years have seen Lake Michigan’s water hovering around record lows due to high evaporation and low precipitation, but 2016 has seen a drastic reversal of the trend. June levels reached 580 feet — the highest level since 1998 and more than a three-feet increase over record-low 2013 levels.
Three feet may not seem like much, but for Lake Michigan it adds up to nearly 10 trillion additional gallons of water that the lake hasn’t seen in 17 years. The sudden increase is the most drastic since 1918 and provides relief to shoreline wildlife and commercial shipping. The shipping industry is particularly pleased with the rise in water level. The increased depth allows freighters to carry nearly 10,000 more tons of material than they were able to three years ago.
Though the change is drastic, Lake Michigan’s water level is still less than one foot above average, and a full two feet below the record high of 582 feet in 1986. Some are hoping the lake stays well below that record as several houses have been condemned in Wisconsin and Michigan due to bluff erosion. In Mount Pleasant, a dozen homes are at risk of falling into the lake. Coastal erosion will likely remain the largest threat posed by rising lake levels, as people and governments have become accustomed to low levels.
The US Army Corps of Engineers predicts the water level to continue rising through July before slowing and eventually falling through Fall and Winter. Levels are unlikely to fall below average for quite some time, and could continue their increase next year.