Lake Michigan water levels at highest point in 20 years causing headaches for some who call the beach home
Bob Kasarda, NWI Times
Jun 11, 2018 Updated 15 min ago
One-third of the metal seawall that stands between Lake Michigan and the homes along the Ogden Dunes shoreline is now exposed due to erosion, according to Rodger Howell, chairman of the town's Beach Nourishment & Preservation committee.
Where there is still beach, much of it is too small to even put up a volleyball net, he said.
While much of the town's problems are the result of the nearby Port of Indiana and ArcelorMittal bulkhead blocking the natural flow of sand back west to the community's beach, Howell said, the high water levels are making the problem worse.
The water level in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which rise and fall as one, is at a high not seen since the late 1990s, said Lauren Fry, lead forecaster at the Detroit office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When the lakes rise to levels higher than average, it poses a threat to property along the shoreline, she said.
The water in Lake Michigan rises and falls on a predictable annual cycle that begins low during winter and builds through July and August as a result of winter thaws and rains before dropping again, according to forecasts provided by the Army Corps.
The water level remains 14 inches below the record high of May 1986, Fry said, but it appears to be on its way up. The rise took off in 2013 and 2014 with record increases those years, she said, and then slowed for a couple of years.
It took off again last year with a steep increase and has been on track with seasonal norms so far this year, she said. This year's total increase will depend on how much rain falls this month.
The high lake levels have resulted in narrower beaches within the boundaries of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said Public Information Officer Bruce Rowe.
Areas hit particularly hard include the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, and Central and West beaches, he said. This has forced beachgoers to drop their blankets and towels closer to one another, as was recently noted by a ranger on patrol.
"He kept saying, 'Excuse me, excuse me,' as he stepped over people," Rowe said. "People just squeeze in."
There is also less beach this year at Indiana Dunes State Park, said Assistant Property Manager Mickey Rea.
"It's shallow from the (parking) lot to the shoreline," he said.
But the state park began with a large beach, so the rising water has not yet caused any real congestion problems among beachgoers, Rea said.
"No one was stepping on each other," he said.
One part of the shoreline that typically does better with higher water levels is the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, according to Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator Lauren Edsall.
"Generally speaking, high water levels allow for safer navigation and operation at ports than low water levels," she said.
"In low-water situations, shipping channels have less draft for ships entering and exiting harbors, which creates additional risk of vessels running aground along the bottom or on a sand bar," Edsall said. "When the water levels are low, vessels might have to 'light load' or carry less cargo, which creates the need for more ships and additional costs."
But even the local port can face some challenges as lake water rises.
"There can be some complications for engineering inspections of dock walls and mooring structures that are not as easily accessible or visible when the lake levels are high, she said.
"However, higher lake levels do not generally create major challenges for ports unless there are additional adverse conditions, such as strong winds or wave action," Edsall said. "In those cases, fendering and mooring devices may need to be adjusted to protect vessels and dock walls from damage."
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