With near record high water levels, Lake Michigan swallowed up beaches, piers and sidewalks across Chicago and the region this summer.
While those lake levels have declined from their peak in July, preliminary data released last week by the Army Corps of Engineers shows Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which are measured together, are still close to 3 feet above the long-term monthly average.
An Army Corps forecast also shows those levels may remain high through at least early 2020.
How might high lake levels impact infrastructure and recreation across the region?
Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, says that while high lake levels are more visible in the summer when people are out on the lake, they can actually do more damage in the fall and winter.
“That’s because you get these really intense wind driven storms that push huge waves up into the shoreline, and really increase the erosion,” Brammeier said. “The concern about the water staying at this level through the winter is, the higher the water is, the more of that energy could reach the properties along the shoreline.”
But high lake levels aren’t always bad news. Brammeier says they can actually play an instrumental role in a shoreline’s ecology.
“When the water changes where it is on the shoreline … different plants and animals can survive and thrive in different kinds of habitats,” he said. “You don’t see it today and tomorrow, but from year to year, as those water levels change, it’s actually diversifying the habitat for fish and wildlife at the shoreline.”