Low water levels on Lake Michigan pose dangers to commercial and recreational boaters on the Great Lakes.
News reports in early February say the water level on Lake Michigan was at a record low in January. According to Army engineers, the lower than average water levels are caused by a hot summer and little snow so far this winter.
Water Levels Worse in Recent Years
Officials say the water levels have been decreasing in recent years. However, current levels are the lowest they have been since the early 1900s.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) documented a lake level of just 576.02 feet this past January. This is the lowest for both Lakes Michigan and Huron since early last century.
What Low Water Levels Mean for Commerce
When the water levels drop this low it is detrimental for commercial boating traffic in the Great Lakes. It is a potential economic and financial impact for local and international trade.
The Great Lakes are important for shipping, with many commercial ships ferrying commodities to various harbors. When water levels are lower, ships need to have lighter loads rather than filling to capacity, which impacts their profitability. Typically the prices for items they ship, such as coal, will increase and be passed on to consumers.
Recreation and Environment also Affected
Even though recreational boating vessels aren’t the size of their commercial counterparts, low water levels will impact recreational boaters as well. Lower levels will make it challenging to use existing docks to launch fishing and pleasure craft into the water. Fewer people boating for pleasure or fishing means less income for related businesses including bait and tackle shops, which is not good news for the local economy.
Additionally, the environment tends to suffer when water levels decrease. Wetlands and fish stock tend to be impacted most as their natural habitat changes for the worse.
American and Canadian Mayors Calling for Action
Recently a coalition of mayors from communities on both the American and Canadian sides of the lakes called on the leaders of both countries to help. They cite a study that blames dredging to allow passage of deep-draft freighters for causing the low water levels and urge immediate investigation into possible solutions to the problem.
Low water levels may expose rocks, sandbars and other hazards that were previously safely well below the surface. If you’re boating in an area with lower water levels it’s more important than ever to make sure you have ample boat insurance coverage. If you have questions regarding your boat insurance policy you can call Global Marine Insurance at 800-748-0224. Also take extra care this season to check the depth near the shoreline and navigate slowly in shallow waters so that you have time to respond to obstacles hiding just below the surface.