LELAND — Area marinas could see ice damage this winter as Lake Michigan water levels show no sign of retreating.
At the Leland Harbor the lake is lapping at the steel I-beams under the decking on its three fixed docks. Another 10 inches and the docks will be fully engulfed.
“If we get bopped with a hyper-cold winter there’s going to be ice damage,” said Russell Dzuba, harbormaster. “It’s a little angsty waiting to see what will happen.”
Repairing that damage could cost thousands of dollars, he said.
The docks are normally about 4 feet above the water level, he said.
“Nobody ever considered that the normal high-water level would be this high,” Dzuba said. “Every one of these lakefront marinas is suffering.”
Water levels in Lake Michigan usually begin to fall in September, but heavy rainfall caused the lake to rise two inches between Sept. 4 and Oct. 4, according to a recent report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lake Michigan will also start 2020 higher than it was in 2019, the report said.
Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the Detroit district, said high levels came within an inch of breaking the record in June and July. While the record remains intact, current levels are the highest they’ve been since the record set in 1986.
The last five years have also been the wettest on record over the last 120 years, he said.
“The water level and how everything rises or falls is really dependent on weather conditions,” Kompoltowicz said. “What’s happening right now is it’s wet and it has been for several years and that’s driving lake levels.”
Increased precipitation is influenced by climate change, as warmer air holds more moisture and increases the frequency and intensity of rain and snow events, according to climate experts.
Average temperatures in the Great Lakes Basin are increasing at a faster rate than in the rest of the contiguous United States, according to a study commissioned by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.
So is precipitation. Overall, annual precipitation in the U.S. increased 4 percent from 1901 to 2015. In the Great Lakes region that increase is 10 percent, with rain events now regularly exceeding 6 inches, the study states.
Water levels in the Great Lakes generally fluctuate from low levels to high levels about every 30 years, according to a report put out by FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center in Traverse City.
This year’s swing to near record highs in June from record low levels in 2013 took just six years, the report states.
At the D. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport the water is 10 to 12 inches from the decking on its four fixed docks.
Bubblers that circulate air to keep the water from freezing have been adequate in past years, said Chris Holton, supervisor of the village’s Department of Public Works.
More bubbler lines may be installed this year, Holton said. He’s keeping his fingers crossed that they’ll keep the water fluid and stave off ice damage.
“But if we get a real hard, cold winter it’s anybody guess,” he said.
The parking lot of the Northport marina has also seen flooding as a drain in the lot is lower than the water level. A launch ramp for transient boaters has been moved back several times, said Joni Scott, village clerk. It was recently again partially under water.
The village has looked at redoing the lot, but no work can be done until water levels go down, Scott said.
“Mother Nature is very good at doing her work along there,” Scott said.
In Leland’s Fishtown several historic shanties are in danger of rotting as water regularly comes over the floorboards, causing the Cheese Shanty to close a month early. Carlson’s Fishery and the Morris shanty have also seen flooding, with parts of the Morris shanty’s dock being washed away.
A campaign is underway to raise money for the nearly $2 million it will cost to elevate and repair the three shanties, take care of some drainage issues in Fishtown and to replace docks.
Further up the peninsula at Christmas Cove Beach in Leelanau Township a parking lot continues to crumble and fall into the lake as the water erodes a steep bluff leading up to the lot.
Over the years the township has tried to deter erosion with riprap with no luck. Another plan to install vertical steel sheeting was rejected after residents protested the move would “harden” the beach.
Moving the parking lot has also been talked about. For now large concrete blocks have been placed about 10 feet back from what was once the edge of the lot.
For now a plan to shore up the bluff with tree stumps has been approved. Clerk Denise Dunn said stumps have for years been placed on a bluff at nearby Peterson Park and no erosion has taken place there.
“We don’t know if it’s going to work, but at least it may help to stem the erosion,” Dunn said.