TRAVERSE CITY — There’s water, water everywhere, but not like 1986.
Expectations are that once again most of the Great Lakes will break water level records for July, save for Lakes Michigan and Huron. That’s exactly what happened with June’s statistics.
Even if it’s not a record-breaking summer, the water level effects are being felt across the area.
The basement of the State Theatre in downtown Traverse City — the heart of the ongoing Traverse City Film Festival — is flooded from the high water table and close proximity to the Boardman River and its mouth into Grand Traverse Bay.
Festival co-founder Michael Moore asked for donations during the opening of the Traverse City Film Festival at the State Theatre to help cover the expected $50,000 cost to repair the basement and remove mold.
“Right now, the Boardman River has come up over the banks … and has come into our basement of this theater,” Moore said. “We’ve taken all the necessary precautions to make sure that we don’t float down the Boardman during the screening of tonight’s movie.”
Theater and festival officials cannot use the basement and the greenroom there is gone, Moore said.
“We know what’s going to happen when we bail the water out of there or the river goes down, and that’s going to be mold,” Moore said. “We’re already seeing that we’re going to be dealing with a serious mold extraction in this theater.”
Other high water impacts are easily seen in town.
There there are at least a half-dozen parking spaces currently blocked from use at Traverse City’s West End Beach, where erosion from the high water levels has washed away the ground beneath a portion of the parking lot.
“Because of the high water and splashing effect, it’s had some erosion impacts on the lot,” said Marty Colburn, city manager.
Estimates for emergency repairs to the damaged lot are between $60,000 and $80,000, so city officials decided to wait on that. It might be pointless just yet, anyway.
“It’s not done doing what it’s going to do,” Colburn said.
The city manager said storm drains on East Grand Traverse Bay have become buried with sand from shoreline erosion, and the saturated ground and excess water in the Boardman River is causing more scouring along the river banks.
“Mother Nature is taking her toll on us,” Colburn said.
Water has encroached on shorelines everywhere in the Great Lakes this summer.
“Lakes Michigan and Huron are likely to come in just shy of the record, maybe by about an inch,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, watershed hydrology chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District.
He said record-breaking monthly mean high water levels are expected for July on Lakes Superior, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario.
July’s daily water levels in the Great Lakes measured by the Corps will be used to determine the month’s mean, or average, water levels. Only then will hydrologists officially know whether this season’s high water levels will bust July records set in 1986.
The uncommon situation makes for interesting conditions to observe, said Mark Breederland, Michigan Sea Grant extension specialist in Traverse City.
“This is extremely high,” he said. “It is an extraordinary year, it really is.”
The hope is that peak water levels have arrived and the flooded shorelines will begin to emerge again, decreasing the likelihood of damaging weather conditions, Breederland said.
“A little bit of wind can move that water and cause a seiche. When we are at already such high water levels, a shift in the wind can cause dramatic results,” he said. “I’m hoping for fair winds and fair seas.”
Jeff Zoltowski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in Gaylord, said the area received about normal precipitation for the month of July, having both dry spells and extreme thunderstorms.
“There certainly were incidents of heavy rainfall,” he said, especially the storm on July 15 when statistics show more than an inch fell in Traverse City.
The region’s precipitation outlook for August calls for both temperature and precipitation levels to be generally close to normal, Zoltowski said.
Recently June’s mean water levels for Lake Michigan came within less than a half-inch — 0.36 inch, or less than 1 centimeter — of the record set for that month in 1986, according to figures reported by the Corps.
Contrarily, statistics show Lakes Superior, St. Clair and Erie each broke high water level records for June set in 1986, and Lake Ontario broke a June record set two years ago.
Projections from the federal agency call for this year’s peak water levels to have arrived in July in Lakes Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie, but not to come until August for Lake Superior.
Reporter Brendan Quealy contributed information for this article.