After last summer’s blistering temperatures and the relative lack of winter snows the last few years, it’s very hard not to notice that some changes are underway. If you spend any time on or around the Lakes of Michigan or the Great Lakes in general you have no doubt noticed that things are not as they used to be. The water levels are down all over and property owners as well as whole communities are being affected.
The cause of the changes is still a matter of debate but the best minds attribute them to low precipitation and the excessive heat, which has led to an amount of excessive evaporation. These effects may come in the form of a receding waterline, leaving many lake docks high and dry, requiring the purchase of more dock sections or a relocation of the dock itself, requiring different support hardware. Another impact would likely be the placement of your boat lift as the usual location may now be on dry lake bed or the water may be too shallow to use the lift at all. This last factor will likely impact those with pontoon lifts as in some instances the water is just too shallow to get the boat on the lift.

In the last few weeks there have been some major announcements from state governments, around the Great lakes, centered on dealing with what has been called an environmental and economic emergency. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan has announced that he will seek $21 million to address the low levels of Michigan’s harbors through a dredging program designed to keep these harbors, and the communities that rely on them, open for business. The bulk of the funds, about $10 million, will come from the Michigan Waterways Project, while the rest will come from supplemental appropriations.

Michigan’s 56 harbors are maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) but only six are slated to be addressed this year, leaving state and local governments to take up the slack. Gov. Snyder’s plan includes provisions to ease the process of dredging permits so that local communities can get the work moving before the main tourist seasons; a major economic consideration for regional communities. John Allen, director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) likened access to open water to the “lifeblood for the summer” for Michigan communities. He went on to add that “Michigan needs to be open for business and our port and harbor communities need to have reasonable access to water.” (AP)

Last year’s blistering temperatures seem to be on track for a return bringing more tough times for Great Lakes communities and the effects may move beyond low water levels to have a far broader economic impact. If you live along one of these waterways its best to start making plans now for dealing with the changes before you find that your summer fun fails to arrive this season. You may be able to bridge whatever gap appears as the water recedes by installing some kind of gangway, or you may have to invest more to get out on the water, either way, it’s best to be informed than caught wondering what’s going on.

Update: 03/25/13

In a 30 to 5 vote on March 21st 2013, the Michigan Senate approved the proposed emergency dredging allocation from the State’s general and Waterway’s Funds as proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder in his executive budget proposal. With a total of $12 Million dollars slated to address 49 projects on lake’s Michigan, Huron, and St. Claire, the funding comes through just as The Great Lakes region gears up for the coming boating season.

Targeting harbors, marinas, and boat launches, the plan, assembled by the MI State Waterways Commission, hopes to address critical water levels as Michigan moves into the 2013 recreational boating season. With an average reduction in water levels around 16”, many of the harbors and marinas around Michigan lakes are too shallow for safe boating and shipping traffic.

Additionally, help for private marina owners in the expensive process of dredging their own marinas will come in the form of a $1 million allocation, which passed in the State Senate with a vote of 106 to 4. This is essentially a step which will make it easier for these private marina owners to secure loans for the necessary dredging and maintain the viability of their waterways. With the 2013 season just getting under way, there are bound to be more changes going forward. Stay tuned and we will get you the details.

© 2013