Rising Water Levels: What You Should Know

Three Things to Know About High Water Levels


What do the years 1918, 1973, 1986 and 2019 have in common? For those living on or near Lake Michigan, the obvious answer is high lake water levels. An average Lake Michigan/Huron elevation of 581 feet or more was experienced last month, and may not crest until July.

But, what does that mean for you?

High water levels can impact everything from building and landscape construction to increased erosion and recession of dunes and lakeside bluffs. Consider these three things you might not know about high water levels.


1. Lake Levels are Cyclical

As with most Earth processes, so many variables are involved with lake levels that even experts hesitate to forecast lake levels within one foot of certainty any sooner than six months from now. So, what is predictable?  Lake levels will go up and go down, and new recent history records (high and low) will be set someday. It is important to know for perspective’s sake that geological evidence of much higher and much lower ancient Great Lake elevations is all around us. For example, geologists have estimated that ancient glacial lakes Algonquin (11,000 years ago) was at 605 feet, and Chippewa (9,800 years ago) briefly at 230 feet.

Adding a geological consultant to your design team exposes this perspective through due diligence, geotechnical evaluation and/or preliminary engineering processes.


2. Groundwater is Cyclical, Too

Like lake levels, it is important for the design team to take into account the variability of the groundwater table as it also rises and falls, often in direct communication with the lake level. Depending on location, groundwater contributes to lake levels. In some places it’s the opposite, and in some places it’s both, depending on the time of year. It is not uncommon for the groundwater table to fluctuate five to ten feet over several years. It is important to know that changes in soil types and even former land uses can also contribute to a groundwater “problem.”


3. High Water Damage is Avoidable, but Mitigation is Expensive

Even the predictable constant of change in water levels can become a very real problem when friends, neighbors and customers are negatively impacted by a seemingly unstoppable force of destruction (or inconvenience) in rising water levels. But, there is good news! By performing and analyzing soil borings and geological data, the potential for inconvenience and damage caused by changing water levels can be mitigated.

Managing high water is much more economical on the design end, especially as compared to retrofitting existing construction to remove water. And while we sometimes hear, "Anything is possible if you throw enough money at it," many times it just makes more sense to account for periodic high water by avoidance than to build a “mini” Hoover Dam, or underground parking in an unfortunate location. 


Gosling Czubak has worked with builders, contractors, lenders and owners throughout northern Michigan to perform development due diligence and create foundation solutions. For additional information regarding solutions for high water concerns, contact Adam Biteman, C.P.G., P.G.


Want more news like this? Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Facebook.