Windsor

Lake Erie water level may not pass last year's peak, but shoreline could still face damage

Environment Canada water engineer said levels are lower, but only compared to record high

Posted: June 15, 2020

Lake Erie water levels have dropped below last year's record-high peak, but damage can still be done along the shoreline. (Submitted by Chris Houser)

It's now looking like Lake Erie might not break its record high water level from last year. 

That mark was set on June 21 last year, when the lake reached 175.19 m. The normal level is about 80 cm lower than that.

Frank Seglenieks, a water resources engineer with Environment Canada, said the water is still very high, but we have not quite reached the same level as 2019.

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The closest we came was back on May 30, when the lake levels were within five centimetres of that record level. They have dropped five centimetres since then, said Seglenieks. 

"Have we peaked? It's possible," he said. "One big storm can easily push the level up four or five centimetres. We're only one or two storms away from getting to the all-time highs. Admittedly, the next week looks pretty dry."

Seglenieks said we also need to keep an eye on how much water is coming downstream from Lake Huron, which is at a record high level.

Levels are always changing in the Great Lakes, and they typically decline in fall and winter, then rise in spring and summer as melting snow and rainfall replenish them. Broader fluctuations take place over longer periods. Levels surged in the 1980s before dropping sharply in the 2000s.

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Lakes Ontario and Erie last year reached their highest points since record keeping began in 1918. Superior surpassed several all-time monthly averages and did so again in January. Lakes Huron and Michigan did likewise in January this year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, MI.

"Generally these things do go into cycles," said Seglenieks. "We're still relatively early in this high-water period."

This year, Lake Erie surged in January after a major rain event, said Seglenieks.

"Right now, it's actually going down a little bit ... there's some thought that maybe we hit the peak in Lake Erie and maybe we're on a downward swing," he said. 

Seglenieks said we shouldn't be too hung up on records because the levels are still quite high and any bad storm would cause a lot of erosion and flooding damage. Seglenieks added people with property along the north shore of Lake Erie should be cautious during any storm. 

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With files from The Associated Press