Great Lakes Have Above-Average Water Levels For First Time This Century

NOAA Specialist Says Increased Levels Are Due To Uptick In Runoff Over Past 2 Years

Lake Michigan as seen from the town of Two Rivers. Photo: Lester Public Library (CC-BY-NC-SA).

A federal agency says it looks like all five Great Lakes are above their average water level for this time of year, the first time that’s happened this century.

Low water levels have especially been plaguing the Great Lakes — Michigan and Huron especially — for a number of years. But since then, federal and state scientists have been reporting rising lake levels. Hydrologist Drew Gronewold of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said new data show all five great lakes are above their September average.

“That hasn’t happened since the late 1990s,” he said.

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Gronewald said there have been two years of above-average snow and rain runoff into the lakes in the spring, and less of the typical decrease in the fall. He said that’s happening partly because there’s less evaporation, “but also there have been wet falls over the past couple of years.”

Gronewald argued that in general, the rising water levels are helpful, “particularly (for) people who interact with the coastline, who have homes or cottages that they need to have access to.”

He added that they also “relieve pressure on industries who rely on the water through intake structures.”

Gronewald said a downside is that if lake levels are around average, people usually pay less attention to climate change and other potential threats to the levels. However, he said that maybe once again, key players will focus on pollution in the water.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will be in Chicago Wednesday, discussing Great Lakes water quality.