Special Report: Scraping Bottom- Water Level Worries - Northern Michigan's News Leader

Special Report: Scraping Bottom- Water Level Worries

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Hot summers, little precipitation and infrequent ice cover have the Lake Michigan/Huron watershed near record lows.

Captain Tom Kelly from Inland Seas Education Center studies the drop and he's seen the headache it's causing for boaters first-hand.  Many boaters simply can't get to a launch ramp and for those who can, it's not a piece of cake.  A lot of people have found themselves stuck in their docks or their slips this fall as the water lowered and suddenly they couldn't get their boats out.

Shipping companies are taking a big hit, losing hundreds of tons of capacity for every inch the lakes go down.

Kelly says 'By this time, we would expect from looking at the overall records of Lake Michigan, the levels in general would have started coming back up by now, but they haven't, they've stayed low.'

The Army Corps of Engineers predicts we'll be setting new record lows in the next few months, sparking the question of the role of climate change.

Kelly says 'People that are studying climate change are telling us that this could be the result of a shift in climate, we may not expect to see those levels go back up to where they were.'

'You can't look at what's happened this year or last year and say this is climate change because it just takes longer and because we've seen over the historical record period it's gone up and down.'

Whether this is a result of climate change or just an extremely low point of the normal water cycle, if the levels don't go back up soon, big changes will have to be made.  Sinking profits for shipping companies and draining the number of boaters visiting local harbors.  It will force expensive dredging onto governments and private companies.

There's also industries affected like power generation in Sault St. Marie and Niagara Falls and places up the St. Lawrence River.  If there's less water going through there they generate less electricity.

9&10's Ann Marie LaFlamme and photojournalist Jeff Blevins have the details on the trend of our sinking Great Lakes.