Continued Record High Water Levels Force Cooperation Among Great Lakes Leaders

Feb 21, 2020

Lake Superior along Highway 107 near the entrance to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon County.
Credit Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron are on pace to set all-time records for high water levels in February.

Lake Superior is 15 inches above normal, while Michigan and Huron are more than three feet above average.

That’s sent Great Lakes states into action, scrambling for solutions as water stays high.

“From the Corps’ perspective, we’re focusing on what’s happening right now.  Right now, it’s just been unbelievably wet across the Great Lakes Basin, leading to these record high levels,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, an Assistant Chief in the Engineering and Technical Service for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Great Lakes went from record low levels to record high levels in record time, rising several feet from 2013 to now.

“We’ve got multiple places in the Upper Peninsula where we’re having erosion and water coming up near the roadway surface,” said Brad Wieferich, the Director of the Bureau of Development for the Michigan Department of Transportation.  “If I had to characterize it, I’d say, look at the whole map.”

Last week, Michigan hosted a High Water Coordinating Summit and created an action team.  The team is looking to prevent and respond to major damage to homes, roadways, and public places.

“We’ve had issues with roads leading into our state parks.  County Road 107 up in the U.P. that goes into the Porcupine Mountains, the road to the Lake of the Clouds, that was a road that was in grave danger of pretty profound failure.  We, along with Ontonagon County, have undertaken some road armoring, shoreline armoring,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger.

The Michigan DOT estimates water damage to road infrastructure could cost $100 million to repair.

Michigan State Police Inspector James Grady says he’s coordinating with other states, including Wisconsin.

“Michigan is not the only state that’s dealing with this.  There are four or five other states that are dealing with this as well that align along the Great Lakes, just like Michigan.  We’re constantly looking and researching solutions or resources that could be available to help residents here in Michigan,” Grady said.

Michigan plans to build more seawalls to protect its shorelines.

High water levels have also led to saturation and flooding on inland lakes.