Lake Huron is lagging behind the rest of the Great Lakes when it comes to rising water levels, but it appears its time to break records is near.
As of Sunday the basin, which includes Lakes Huron and Michigan, was just two centimetres below the 33-year-old high-water record for the beginning of July. And with the way the lake is rising it should be there by the end of the month.
“Michigan-Huron was the only lake that wasn’t hitting records as of the beginning of June, but it is getting very close now,” said Derrick Beach, senior water resources engineer with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “It is actually rising relatively rapidly.”
Lake Michigan-Huron rose by 18 centimetres in May, which was the fifth largest rise on record for the month and more than double the typical rise of eight centimetres. Since the start of June, the lake levels have risen another eight centimetres due to above average precipitation and above average inflows from Lake Superior. On Sunday the International Great Lakes Datum 1985 average level of the lake was 177.34 metres, very close to the July record set in 1986. Chart datum is the level at which the water will seldom fall below, and is used for navigational safety purposes.
Beach explained that most of the monthly high water records were set in 1986, which was a very wet year, with other high-water periods in Lake Huron including 1918, 1929, 1952 and 1973-74.
The basin levels tend to peak in July each year before declining into the fall and then rising again in February and March.
Beach said Lake Huron-Michigan is the slowest lake basin to react because its surface area is the largest of all the Great Lakes.
“In order to change it a centimetre of depth it takes the largest amount of volume of water of any of the Great Lakes,” said Beach. “When it gets up it tends to take it longer to come down, but then it takes a little bit longer to get back up there as well.”
Beach said the swings in lake levels are a natural occurrence, but it is expected climate change will lead to greater extremes.
“There is research that has been done that basically they are indicating that with climate change we can expect the wetter periods to be wetter, but also we can expect drier periods to be drier,” Beach said.
The lake is a far cry from where it was six years ago, when in January 2013 a low water level record was set, near the end of an extended low-water period that began in 1998.
But since that time, there has been year-after-year above average precipitation on the lakes and evaporation that has remained about average, Beach explained, pushing the lake back up again.
“It has basically been just a gradual rise each year to where we are now at the point where we are likely to break records in July,” Beach said.
Flooding that has impacted other areas of the province this spring, like the Toronto Islands and areas of Eastern Ontario, hasn’t caused the same problems in Grey-Bruce, but it is affecting some.
Darrell Nash, general manager at Georgian Shores Marina in Owen Sound, said the high water levels have caused some issues at the marina this spring.
They have had to raise their gas dock to its highest point, and even with that it was level with the water on Tuesday morning. Nash said the only way to adjust it higher is to disassemble it and make it a floating dock, which would cost thousands of dollars.
They also have two full runs of fixed docks in the marina that are completely under water. They are in the process of getting extension posts made to make them usable again.
“We are not in any jeopardy as far as water levels rising and decommissioning any other docks, but it is certainly a challenge,” said Nash, noting they still have slips available for boaters. “We have a whole bunch of other fixed docks where we have had to raise those a couple of times and we will probably have to raise them again. It is not the best situation, that is for sure.”
Municipalities that are popular tourist destinations because of their beaches are also feeling the impact of the higher waters as the busy summer season nears.
In Saugeen Shores, some areas of its shoreline trail were hit by erosion, while storms this spring left debris that had to be cleaned off the beaches.
Mayor Luke Charbonneau said the issues they have had so far have been fairly minor.
“Just the last few days the high water there and big waves dumped a bunch more stuff on Port Elgin’s main beach that needs to be cleaned up, and there was a lot in Southampton earlier,” said Charbonneau. “Of course high water means maybe you have a little less beach, but it is getting to the stage now where we are getting it cleaned up for the most part and getting it set up for what hopefully will be a good summer season.”
Charbonneau said they are used to the rise and fall of the water and it is something they just have to live with.
“Two years ago we had a lot of beach and everyone was concerned about that,” said Charbonneau. “It is a bit of a cyclical thing and we are into those high water level situations now, and that just means there is more water to enjoy. We will look at it that way.”
Beach said that there can be other positives to higher waters in that the erosion is a natural process that can rejuvenate the beaches as the water recedes.
It can also be beneficial for some marinas and recreational boaters as their approaches don’t need to be dredged.
“Certainly commercial shipping benefits from the deeper water, as they can basically haul more commercial cargo,” Beach added.