Low Water Levels in the Great Lakes Causing Problems in Northland

By KBJR News 1

July 12, 2013 Updated Jul 12, 2013 at 6:20 PM CDT

Ashland, WI (NNCNOW.com) - Fluctuating water levels in the great lakes are presenting a challenge to businesses along the south shore of Lake Superior.

Water levels in the Great Lakes have been below average for the past 15 years.

"The biggest problem with lake levels is the extremes they go to. Being low is troublesome, but being too high is troublesome also," says Mayor,Larry MacDonald, City of Bayfield.

Lake Superior is seven inches below average, while Lake Michigan is setting record lows at 20 inches below the long term average.

Officials say this trend is causing problems with cargo ships.

"Dredged channels are not deep enough so the commercial shippers have to lighten their loads of the cargoes they are hauling," said Gene Clark, a Coastal Engineering Specialist with the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Not only are cargo ships feeling the effects of low water levels, but so are marinas.

"When we have low water levels, we experience issues with our facilities, whether you have a floating dock system or a fixed dock system it can make it very difficult for the boaters to get on and off their boats and difficult for people to navigate around the marina," said Michelle Shrider, the general manager at Washburn Marina.

Three to five billion tourism dollars in Wisconsin come from water related recreation in Great Lake Counties; but water levels are forcing boaters and marinas to adjust to the levels for a price.

"There is ferry that goes between Bayfield and Madeline Island and I spoke with the general manager of that business and they had to invest a considerable amount of money in the commercial docks they use for the ferry. They had to make one of their docks adjustable on Madeline Island to the tune of $80,000 within the last year," said Shrider.

Water levels are projected to stay low through the course of the year, leaving it to experts to find ways to deal with the waves of change.

Experts say the state has existing programs, infrastructure and expertise to help manage water levels in the great lakes, but they lack the financial resources to do so.

Posted to the web by Kati Anderson.