Storm Damage

Water Levels a Concern as Fall/Winter Storm Season Begins

Plaques and drift wood had been displaced up to the tree line at Neys Provincial Park this summer. High water levels in Lake Superior and throughout the Great Lakes have resulted in major impacts to lakeshores, which may be the new normal as climate change leads to increased precipitation in the region. Photo: Infosuperior

Great Lakes water levels have been making headlines all year, and October was no different. Wet conditions since September, 2018, have resulted in record high water levels in Lake Superior. Record levels were reached in almost all the Great Lakes this summer. Lake Ontario levels, in particular, led to deviations in the IJC Plan 2014 for the regulation of outflows by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board. These deviations have been maintained throughout the summer. Although Lake Ontario levels have been declining, Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are still experiencing very high levels and those water levels, combined with high winds, led to huge waves and further erosion in October.

The Headlines for October

Damage from Lake Superior was particularly bad in Duluth and Thunder Bay, catching the attention of various news outlets. MPRNews’s Paul Huttner reported that wind gusting up to 68 mph / 109 km/hr on Oct 21, 2019, lead to flooding and damage to parts of the Lakewalk in Duluth, MN; however, the newly constructed section of the Lakewalk held-up well according to Duluth News Tribune’s coverage by Andee Erickson. Despite the damages sustained, residents interviewed by Kare11 news appeared to be keeping their heads up and Star Tribune even posted images of surfers taking advantage of the waves. The same day, 45 mph / 74 km/hr winds and 35-40 mm / 1.4-1.6 in. of rain in Thunder Bay lead to flooding and erosion that resulted in the closure of a popular boardwalk and trail at Mission Marsh, as reported by the CBC.

In Chicago, damage from Lake Michigan is expected to require billions of dollars in prevention and repair efforts according to an article by Jay Koziarz of Vox Media Curbed: Chicago. Travelling towards Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac, further damages were apparent. MLive’s Emily Bingham reported on October 24, 2019 that a local tour guide had noticed that the foundation of the Waugoshance Lighthouse had begun to erode. The historic lighthouse’s foundation is in danger of complete collapse if mitigation isn’t attempted. Lake Huron also caused thousands of dollars in damages to sidewalks and other public spaces along Alpena’s lakefront with waves up to 7 feet tall according to Alpena News’s Steve Schulwitz.

Officials Responding to Impacts

In response to the extensive damage that has been observed across the Great Lakes this summer, the IJC’s Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee with the IJC’s  International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) and the International Lake Superior Board of Control (ILSBC) are reaching out to landowners and businesses that have been directly impacted. They are asking those affected to fill out a survey and/or provide images documenting how high water levels have impacted them: Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Shoreline Landowners and Businesses 2019 High Water Impacts Questionnaire.

In a news release on October 30, 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced that they would expedite the permit process required for any alterations on shoreline property. Officials hope to cut permitting times from several months down to days, where there is imminent danger to structures, Michael Kransz reports for MLive. A new webpage was also created to help property owners with the permitting process and provide a centralized area for high water level information:

Water Levels Resource Links:

Government of Canada – Great Lakes Water Levels and Related Data

Government of Ontario – Flood Forecasting and Warning Program

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Great Lakes Information

International Joint Commission Boards, Studies and Committee

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board

International Lake Superior Board of Control

International Niagara Board of Control

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