Changes —good and bad —from high water

Look around, and you will quickly discover that high water is all around us.

Recently I went fly fishing and the stream I was in was higher than I ever had seen it. Literally the whole run of that stream was different from the high water, and it created new twists and turns that made what used to be a very familiar place into a completely new stream. Where once was a sandy bank, now was an area under several feet of water. Where once you could cast a fly and know it would gently float in the current to the opposite bank, no longer.

Anything now cast in that direction would be shot along in the current like out of a slingshot.

It certainly wasn’t that I needed much confirmation, but, days later, the folks at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that Great Lakes waters are at high levels right now.

Don Gilmet, Alpena harbormaster, said the level of water at the harbor and Thunder Bay River are the highest he has seen since the breakwall renovations in that area in the 1980s.

In fact, I would urge you to drive down Prentiss Street, next to the harbor, and view for yourself the high water levels. It seems the level of water is nearly up to the street. And, Gilmet noted, sometimes it washes over into the street.

“The water has begun to flow over onto the street when it gets too high,” he told reporter Steve Schulwitz in a story published earlier this week.

Longtime residents of the area are used to fluctuating water levels. They have seen everything from the high water that will exist this summer, to much lower levels, when you would have to walk hundreds of feet from where the normal shoreline begins just to reach any water.

Drew Gronewold of the School for Environmental Sustainability at the University of Michigan, discussed those fluctuations in water levels.

“Over the past two decades, water levels on the Great Lakes have gone through an unprecedented period of persistent below-average conditions, a record-setting rate of water level rise and, now, a series of record-setting high levels. These changes are a response to unusual combinations of extreme lake evaporation, persistent increases in the magnitude and intensity of precipitation events, and intermittent outbursts of cold arctic air.”

All of which makes for a changing landscape, and both good and bad consequences.

In my mind, the best area to see how the landscape is affected is Squaw Bay. Over the past decade, residents will remember when you could have parked at the 45th Parallel sign and walked for quite a ways out into the bay before hitting any water. Not so today, where that entire area is now under water.

The changes, from year-to-year, are easily noticeable and usually quite significant in this area.

As for the consequences, certainly the Great Lakes shipping industry is enjoying the high water. Again, just years ago, big lakers were dragging bottom at many ports, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was called upon to free up more funds to allow dredging of those ports so boats would have enough draft to clear the bottom.

This year, that need will not be nearly as great, as the rise in lake levels has naturally created the room the boats need to maneuver safely into a port.

Erosion this year will be a concern, and, most likely, the combination of wind, water and wave action will have an impact on many shorelines. Lake bottoms will change as sand is moved by the waves.

Finally, I worry how the water is going to impact sand sculptures. As The Alpena News sponsors the Fourth of July sand sculpture contest each holiday, I worry about the half of the shore at Starlite Beach that we have lost this year because of water levels. There is much less space for participants to work with, and the newspaper staff is probably going to have to rope off specific areas, or there won’t be enough for everyone to create their masterpieces.

Oh, well, we have 26 days until we need to really worry. Maybe, by then, someone will have pulled the plug in Lake Huron.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.