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Rising waters

Lakeshore erosion impacts detailed

Waves crash against the Upper Harbor breakwall in Marquette. Lakeshore homes off of M-28 in the Marquette area and around the Upper Peninsula are experiencing severe erosion due to higher lake levels and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has been expediting permits for homeowners to reverse the damage. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — People who live along Lake Superior and all the Great Lakes are witnessing high water levels, which in turn have caused erosion and flooding for many property owners and resulted in infrastructure damage.

In response, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has been busy at expediting permits to stop the water damage by installing a wall of stone riprap of around 60 to 100 feet long, EGLE Environmental Quality Analyst Sean Soucy said.

Lake Superior has not reached such high water levels since the late 1980s. It fluctuates between decades, as from 2007 to 2013, research showed record-low levels, Soucy said.

“It’s a dynamic system. It’s up and it’s down,” Soucy said. “Superior has been bad for a few years. It’s really just kind of trickling down into Lake Michigan more this year, but the really bad areas in Marquette are out at M-28 by the casino area and all those sandy beaches out in Chocolay Township. That’s the hard hit area now.”

Current water levels on Lake Superior are still about 13 inches higher than the long-term average. However, there haven’t been any new records set in the past couple of months, said Lauren Fry of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology office. However, the 2019 water level was still 3 inches below the record high.

Turbulent waves in Lake Superior gush into the shoreline. Lakeshore homes off of M-28 in the Marquette area and around the Upper Peninsula are experiencing severe erosion due to higher lake levels and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has been expediting permits for homeowners to reverse the damage. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

Lakes across the region are experiencing this due in part to the large amount of precipitation and runoff and lack of evaporation, Fry said.

“The wetness was more pronounced in 2019,” she said. “That’s the primary driver: Mother Nature, in terms of precipitation but also the runoff that’s caused by precipitation over the land. In addition to that, the earlier rise in 2013 and 2014 research showed that was also impacted by reduced evaporation.”

The 2020 outlook shows predictions that this month and February will potentially be above 2019 levels, March and April may be similar to 2019 and in May and June, there may be a decline of 3 to 4 inches, Fry said.

“From my perspective as a water-level forecaster and hydrology person, I would say the most important thing is to be prepared for further high-water conditions,” she added.

This is a statewide issue, Soucy noted. Among the counties affected by the rising tides, Menominee County — specifically Ingallston Township — have had a large amount of permits expedited.

Since Oct. 1, around 70% of applications have been issued within three days from the time they are completed, according to an EGLE press release. About two-thirds of permits have been issued within seven days of when the application was first submitted since Nov. 1.

“Typically, we have a lot of permits in. I cover three counties so in the summer time, I’ll have a backlog of a bunch of permits and it’s just prioritization,” Soucy said. “But because the water is so high, it’s an emergency so that’s why we’re expediting reviews.”

Lower Michigan has added more EGLE staff to speed up the process by answering shoreline erosion calls, Soucy said. EGLE staff of the Marquette District office are also assisting more in the application process than it normally would, he added.

“The state has made this an absolute priority to help people with these riprap shoreline protection projects by the expediting process through our increased customer service response,” Soucy noted.

To learn more about EGLE’s services, visit michigan.gov/highwater. For shoreline erosion inquiries, call the Environmental Assistance Center at 1-800-662-9278 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or email EGLE-Assist@Michigan.gov.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.