Low Water on Lake Michigan/Huron

January 4th, 2013 at 3:48 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

   The water level of Lake Michigan/Huron is down another 2″ in the last month and is now down 17″ in the last year.  It’s at the lowest level it has been at for early January.   Grand Rapids had above average precipitation in December (2.85″ or 0.35″ above average).  So did Muskegon (3.04″ or 0.49″ above average).    Precipitation for G.R. in 2012 was 33.85″ or 88.5% of average.  However, if you include 2011 (G.R. had 45.09″ of precipitation, which was +6.82″ above average), the two year total is 2.40″ above average or 103% of average.  Check out this article for at least a partial reason for the recent decline.  Lake Superior is down only 1″ in the past year.  About 30% of the equation for the water level of Lake Michigan/Huron is the amount of water that flows down from Lake Superior.  Also, new app to view Lake Superior and what’s up with the Keewatin.

19 Responses to “Low Water on Lake Michigan/Huron”

  1. Irish coffee says:

    -25C(850) progged for 1-19 on latest GFS 6z..just sayin- SERIOUS LES if that run were to verify

    1. michael g (SE GR) says:

      With our luck it will be that cold, and it still won’t snow much, due to dry air, small flake size, etc.

      That being said, it has the potential to bring the opposite of last summer, very cold air at the climatologically coldest time of the year.

    2. Rocky (Rockford) says:

      This will not happen and I sure would not count on any decent lake effect snow in in our current NO SNOW PATTERN!

  2. GunLakeDeb says:

    Lake levels: the article Bill linked to wants to blame dredging the St Clair river for the lowered water levels in Huron/Lk Michigan. Personally, I think this is horribly short-sighted.

    Trying to look at this from a logical point of view: water leaves the Great Lakes via the St Lawrence Seaway and the various man-made locks between lakes Erie and Ontario. The flow rate of the Niagara Falls is heavily regulated in order to make hydroelectric power. So if one dredged the St Clair and it was draining the upper lakes *faster* – then Lake Erie should be at a higher water level with all that extra water, right?? But it’s not. It’s at the same level it was 10 years ago. So *I* don’t think dredging is the bogeyman here.

    So where does the water go? I have some guesses: (1.) Corn. Thanks to the price increase in corn used for ethanol, more farmers are planting corn and it’s a very thirsty crop. Irrigation depletes groundwater supplies, which slows the springs that feed the rivers that feed the Great Lakes. Speaking as someone who watches our river levels carefully – they have been alarmingly low this past year. I have paddled rivers like the Fawn, which can drop about 2′ within HOURS when all the farmers kick on their irrigation systems (and suddenly we found ourselves HIKING the Fawn River – not paddling it). (2.) Hydrofracking. Each well that gets fracked uses hundred-of-thousands-to-millions of gallons of water; the returned water is pumped into disposal wells far below the groundwater tables, never to be seen in the Water Cycle again. These volumes are but “thimblefulls” in the scheme of things – but the number of oil/gas well permits has doubled in less than a year, from 60,000 to 120,000. Not all of those wells will be fracked – but those thimblefuls can still add up (3.) Drought – all that dry air upwind can evaporate an astounding amount of water from the surface of ALL lakes and rivers.

    OK – I’ll get off my soapbox now….LOL!

    1. michael g (SE GR) says:

      Lake St Clair was a type of choke point, if more water flows through there, Lake Erie doesn’t rise, the rate of water going of Niagra Falls through Lake Ontario and out the St. Lawrence seaway increases.

      As for the thimblefuls of water adding up, best I can tell there at 6 X 10^15 gallons of water in the Great Lakes. It would be an understatement to say that it would take a lot of thimblefuls.

      I think the evaporation recently has been the big deal. Lack of ice cover and our unusually warm weather (warm air can evaporate more moisture than cool air) are the main contributors to the recent fall.

      1. GunLakeDeb says:

        Michael g – I understand what you are saying – but I couldn’t find evidence that the flow through the Niagara area has increased. And when you consider how many gallons of water it would take to lower BOTH Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – surely it would be VERY noticeable on one single narrow waterway??

    2. big Daddy BC says:

      A 2011 EPA report estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are used to fracture 35,000 wells in the United States each year. Estimates put water consumption between 2 and 4 million per well.

      That’s quite a bit more than a thimble, michael.

      1. Bill Steffen says:

        By comparison…the Great Lakes contain 6 quadrillion gallons of water. So all the fracturing in the entire country would use (and probably return most of the) 0.00000013 percent volume of the Great Lakes…a relative thimbleful.

        1. michael g (SE GR) says:

          That was my point. Kev assumes the word billion will astound people without any understanding of real math.

          You know, billion, quadrillion, what’s a few zeroes among friend?

        2. big Daddy BC says:

          It’s actually .ooo14 or .014 percent every year. I know, it’s math and it’s been a few years, eh, I mean decades. But seriously, if you’re gonna try to make someone look dumb, at least get it right.

          LOL And, let’s keep in mind, my right-wing, nut job, cyber buddies, that the Great Lakes represent 1/5 of the world’s freshwater supply. Taking 14/100ths of the water, mixing it with benzene, HCl and God only knows what else AND then spraying it into our ground water supply in the hopes of extracting more oil, is foolish at best. Especially in a world that’s running out of fresh water when we possess the technology to extract energy from wind and sunshine.

          What gets me the most is how little you care for your children and grandchildren’s future. You too are truly numbskulls.

        3. big Daddy BC says:

          The above calc was for Lake Michigan, but, actually even if you spread it out over ALL the Great Lakes, it’s still .00023%, and that’s when the lake levels are at average.

        4. Bill Steffen says:

          bigD – you’re figure is wrong (and you used the 140 billion figure, I used a more probable middle number and knowing the EPA, it’s probably the low number). It’s less than a drop in the bucket.

          You don’t care a wit about hundreds of people DYING from cold across the world (it may be thousands by now), yet you’re sooooo concerned about polar bears dying from global warming…and you STILL can’t show me a picture of a polar bear that was proven to have died from global warming.

          You don’t care a wit about a soon to be 20 TRILLION dollar debt…you want to force skyrocketing utility and energy rates on the poor and the middle class…you want to want to force “European level” $9 a gallon gasoline on the poor and middle class.

          Even the left is turning on you bigD: http://english.pravda.ru/opinion/columnists/04-01-2013/123380-global_warming-0/

          Say “no” to the climate profiteers! The National Debt is a far worse threat to your grandchildren than a relatively small increase in global temperature.

        5. big Daddy BC says:

          “bigD – you’re figure is wrong (and you used the 140 billion figure, I used a more probable middle number…” It’s simple math, Bill. Even if you reduced the number (big surprise) you’re still off by a few decimals. LOL But in addition to the problem of trading our precious fresh water for oil, is the problem of pollution and contamination. Natural gas leaks and oil contamination of freshwater is compounded by the fact that these companies mix lots of hazardous, undisclosed, chemicals into the slurry they spray below our homes. It’s not worth it and most people agree.

          As far as polar bears go, I understand why you want to change the subject. You clearly have little grasp of what fracking is, and are just arguing for the sake of arguing.

        6. Bill Steffen says:

          Your math is wrong, bigD and fracking is actually helping your cause as we switch from that dastardly coal to cleaner natural gas. The truth is you’re plan is “skyrocketing” utility costs and $9 “European level” gasoline rates. You want to force that on the lower and middle class. It’s a job killer and it’ll crash the economy. You people are such hypocrites. Look at Al Gore…now getting the big bucks from big oil and staying on as a consultant to Al Jazeera!

          They need to study ways to minimize the loss of water from dredging the St. Clair River and keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan. You’re free to try and live without reasonably-priced energy if you like…just don’t force that kind of hardship on the lower and middle class.

      2. GunLakeDeb says:

        There’s only 58 wells in Michigan that are considered “high volume fracking” (greater than 100,000 gallons of water); and wells south of US-10 don’t seem to frack well due to porous shale (I’m watching a proposed fracking in Ionia county to see how that goes). So yes, it’s thimblefuls. What gets my undies in a bunch is that each of those thimblefulls disappears from the Water Cycle completely.

  3. Michael says:

    The situation is far more simple, if you take the volume of the two lakes, and the inflow volumes from the rivers on a yearly basis as replenishment, and you then take the surface area of the the lakes. Lastly you subtract out the average usage of water per person, farming and industrial uses, the number shows that lake Michigan and Lake Huron should lose about 1 foot per year. The only item that doesn’t allow it to fall that much is the flow back from human usage. However this year with the large drought we see a steeper decline than normal.

    The facts are the lakes are going to continue to go down slowly over the years, in the past the scientist sated there is a 10 to 20 year cycles of high and then low waters, however compared to the 80′s which was the last time the water was high, we are now at 30 years of low levels, and before the 1980′s water usage in the region was much lower and the population of far lower than present. So now we are at a population level that is just enough to break the pre 1985 trends of high and low cycles.

    The only real solution is to limit farm and human use which is not going to happen. A reasonable solution that would completely control the lakes is to put locks for the boats that pass at the Detroit River and put a earthen dam in this location to control the lake levels at a set level always.

    1. GunLakeDeb says:

      We have a micro-version of that on Gun Lake – the lake level is controlled by a dam at the outlet. But when the incoming water is insufficient, the lake DOES drop below the dam top – as it was the entirety of last summer. Finally in October, the water started going over the dam again – that was the longest dry spell *I* ever remember….

      And the end result will be similar, too – shallow Lake Erie will disappear, just like the Gun River did….LOL! Somehow, the folks in Sandusky will take offense to that ;-)

      1. Michael says:

        Yes it will be simiar to Gun lake, however Lake Erie is outflow is at two points, (1) is the hydro-electric plant in Niagara, and (2) the Niagara falls. Lake Erie is the same height or a very consistant height because of these two points. By a dam at the Detroit River Lake Erie probably won’t fluctuate that much due to the two items above, however it does have a low water level two points may happen: There will be restricted flow or no flow at the hydro-electric facility and the second which may have public outcry is far lower flow at Niagara falls, which would or could hurt tourist dollars.

        However in general based on the inflow from rivers flowing into lake
        Erie, there should be no effect on Niagara falls and the hydro-electric facility in that location.

        Also there is a clear positive, the cost to build an earthen dam along the Detroit river is about the same price as the new bridge and two things could be accomplished.

  4. james braselton says:

    hi there it rains or snows when i buy a new toy and just ordered a new weather station between january 13 – 18 forcast junaruary 10 – 14 rain january 15 – 18 snow

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