While a warm, dry winter may be more tolerable for Lake Michigan-area residents, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is warning it could send lake water levels plunging to record lows.
Keith Kompoltowicz, chief watershed hydrology branch of the Corps' Detroit District, said Tuesday the lake's water levels for October are still 1 to 2 inches above the record low. The lake is lower than it was in September and one year ago.
Kompoltowicz said precipitation, runoff and evaporation have the greatest impact on water levels. The warm, dry winter of 2011-12 combined with unusually high spring temperatures and the hot, dry summer have created the near record water levels.
"If we were to see a very similar winter to what we saw last winter, I would say we have a real strong potential for seeing the same levels we've had the last six months," Kompoltowicz said.
John Allis, chief of the hydraulics and hydrology office for the Corps' Detroit District office, said dredging and mining projects on the St. Clair River from before 1900 through the 1960s caused Lake Michigan and Lake Huron water levels to decrease by 10 to 16 inches.
"If you were to walk out to the edge of (Lakes) Michigan and Huron and there was never any dredging, it would be 10 to 16 inches higher," Allis said.
Kompoltowicz said the dredging combined with the weather have created a situation that could have serious impacts on lakeshore commerce.
Commercial navigation could have to alter the weight of their loads. Recreational boaters "may not be able to access their favorite places," he said.
"Shoreline property owners could see much more beach in certain areas," Kompoltowicz said. "Marinas may not be able to sell all their boat slips."
The Corps will continue monthly water level evaluations and issue the next six-month report in April 2013.