MARQUETTE - Marquette County officials plan to expand the scope of their inquiry into the causes of plummeting water levels on inland lakes.
"There's a number of areas of Marquette County that have had low lake levels," said Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin. "There are a number of places that have had water levels significantly down."
Recently, Martin Lake property owner Karl Malashanko reiterated resident assertions the pumping of water from two wells at K.I. Sawyer, though now greatly diminished, is the rudimentary culprit behind pronounced declines in the lake's water level there over several months.
Low lake levels were in clear evidence last October on Martin Lake at K.I. Sawyer. Residents said despite a decrease in water pumping from two wells, the lake level remains low. County officials said it’s too early to tell whether the diminshed pumping will help the lake rebound. (Journal file photo by John Pepin)
This is an aerial view of Martin Lake Near K.I. Sawyer taken in 1987, a year before the first of two water wells began operating that residents think has worked to deplete lake levels. (Martin Lake property owners' photo)
Martin Lake residents began lobbying the county board last year for help.
In June, Malashanko said that despite the board-ordered decreased well pumping, Martin Lake levels were still down as much as 6.5 inches in one month. The residents want the two wells capped, but county officials aren't certain other natural factors aren't also playing a role in what's happening at Martin Lake.
County officials have also said it's too early to tell whether the decreased pumping will help the lake rebound.
Former Sands Township Supervisor David Kallio said he is concerned about a similar drop in the level of groundwater, which is also affecting lake levels north of K.I. Sawyer. Kallio recently suggested a drop in the Sands Township aquifer could have an underground link to Martin Lake or potentially Cliffs Natural Resources' Empire Mine in Palmer.
"The township, this spring, as it has going back into the 80s, the Sand Plains aquifer has been tested twice a year to see any changes," Kallio said. "Since 1980, the groundwater has dropped in Sands Township between 9 and 17 feet, depending on what location in the township you're talking about."
Kallio said above-average precipitation in May didn't help the situation.
"At the same time Lake Superior went up 9 inches, our testing in Sands Township showed the groundwater dropped another 10 inches," Kallio said. "Now this has been going on since 1980 like slow water torture, with the groundwater continuing to drop and drop and drop."
At the most recent county board meeting, Corkin said the panel had received several reports of dropping lake levels.
"Martin Lake is probably the big one that started it, but we've had concerns brought up about the Sands Plains, had letters from people about lakes south of Ishpeming, including Chabeneau Lake, Little Perch Lake, Big Perch Lake and people questioning whether activities at the Empire Mine have had anything to do with the aquifers," Corkin said. "And you know they are all legitimate questions that need to be explored and there's a lot of information out there."
Corkin said the county board is asking the county planning commission to gather that information together and get the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality involved to "try to get some answers for people."
The inquiry will extend beyond Martin Lake and the Sands Plains.
"I don't think there's anybody that knows all the answers, but one thing that raises questions in my mind is during the last six, seven, 10 years, certain lakes have pretty well maintained their normal levels, while others, there was severe drops in them," Corkin said. "So, they are legitimate questions that are being raised as (to) why is that? So I think it needs to be investigated and all the information looked at and hear from the experts in the field as to what their answers are to these different problems. It's not just in one part of the county, but it's around the county."
Last month, Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said the planning commission would review a study referenced by Kallio and report back to the county board with recommendations for next steps to take.
No firm deadlines were set for a response to the county board.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.