GREILICKVILLE -- Great Lakes water levels are on the rise, rebounding from a lengthy low-water cycle that dry-docked boat slips and exposed weedy lake bottoms.
The wetter trend is expected to continue in the near-term, exciting waterfront dwellers like Chuck and Virginia Siffert, who live on M-22 along West Grand Traverse Bay in Leelanau County.
They've watched the water line creep up the shore during the last year. Waves now crest small rocks just past their stretch of sandy beach.
"We're happy to see that it's coming up. It seems every few years it comes up," Chuck Siffert said.
"Won't it be nice? Everybody is waiting for that to happen," Virginia Siffert said.
Scientists say water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron -- hydrologically the same horseshoe-shaped lake -- are on the upswing after hitting the decade's lowest level in 2007. Since then, significant snow accumulation and rain turned the tide and the lakes began to reclaim exposed bottomland.
"It's improved and looked nicer over the summer," Virginia Siffert said.
Property values for lakeside homes should rise with water levels, she said, because "people look for water being closer to them on the beach."
Lakes Michigan and Huron are approaching long-term average levels after mostly decreasing -- save for an upward spike in the mid-1990s -- since the century's record high in the mid- to late-1980s, experts said.
"If we see a very wet weather pattern through the rest of the winter and into spring, we could see levels at long-term averages by spring. The past two years, the rise in lake levels has been something else," said Keith Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, where lake levels are closely monitored for navigation and public interest purposes.
The Corps estimates Lake Superior will be as much as four inches higher this year over 2009, while Michigan and Huron could be up to six inches higher, he said.
"A few years ago it got really low," said Greilickville resident Zach Borovik. "We've got a good amount of beach, so it will be great if it comes up."
Higher water allows Borovik's family to more easily beach their jet skis along their slice of West Bay, something they couldn't do in recent years. And family members hope a layer of foul-smelling zebra mussels may not be exposed this year.
"My husband kept saying, 'Look how far the water has come up,'" said Mary Borovik, Zach's mother.
Experts believe the trend will continue.
"We've had a couple years that have been wetter than recent history and also we had pretty good ice cover last year," said Craig Stow, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.
Ice cover decreases evaporation and keeps water temperatures cooler into summer months, he said.
"All of that has contributed to the lakes rebounding," Stow said. "What we are experiencing right now could be another sharp peak."
Deeper Great Lakes prompt shifts in shoreline ecosystems that are part of nature's normal ebb and flow, said Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.
"It changes the ecology. It will create deeper near-shore areas which will be good for fish habitat. It's basically the natural cycle. It's good that we have fluctuations because it provides for a variety of habitats over time," he said. "It's just part of nature."
But long-term predictions that factor in expected global climate changes don't bode well for consistent water levels, said Mark Breederland, extension educator for Michigan Sea Grant in Traverse City.
"In general, it seems we may be facing lower lows than we have in the last 150 years and potentially higher highs. If climate change predictions are spot on, we're looking at probably a broader variation and lower lows on the lakes over time," Breederland said.