Water levels in Lake Erie predicted to stay low Featured

Lake freighter at the LaFarge Marblehead dock last Thursday. Lake freighter at the LaFarge Marblehead dock last Thursday.

The April 3 report from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) states that the water level of Lake Superior is 3 inches below its level of one year ago, while Lake Michigan-Huron is 15 inches lower.  Lake Erie has levels 17 inches lower than a year ago.  Over the next month the water level of Lake Erie is expected to increase 4 inches. 

Keith Kompoltowicz, Chief of Watershed Hydrology for the Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit, said that the seasonal rise of Lake Erie is predicted as “9-11 inches below the long term average, and two inches lower than in 2012.”

The report states that Lake Erie has an average seasonal rise of about 15 inches, but in 2012 had no seasonal rise and rather has had steady or declining levels since January 2012. This was the first time in its recorded history that Lake Erie did not have a seasonal rise.

There is some good news for lake levels this year. One reason it is predicted that Lake Erie levels will have an average or above average seasonal rise is that there is still a good amount of snow across the land areas adjacent to the upper Great Lakes, much higher that the levels of 2012. Also, the official outlook issued by the National Weather Service shows the potential for above average precipitation in April, May and June. 

As for predicting future lake levels beyond the six month forecast, Kompoltowicz stated that, "Based on historical scenarios, there are any number of possibilities. Several seasons of heavier snow and rain would be required to get the lakes back to average." 

Across the Great Lakes the combination of low lake levels and decreases in federal funding for dredging has affected commercial shipping, including the closing of several Great Lakes ports. 36 of 60 deep draft ports have been impacted by the low waters, and 46 of 80 shallow draft ports. There is currently funding for dredging at only 15-23 of those ports.

Seamen E3 Alex Szilagyi and E4 Michal Mattei with the Coast Guard Station Marblehead’s three boats. The three-motored Zodiac-style boat in the right foreground and the heavy seas boat in the background are scheduled to be replaced this season with a 45’ Responder boat medium Marinette, and a second smaller Zodiac-style boat similar to the one on the left of the dock.


Local impact

LaFarge Marblehead Quarry, one of the largest and highest volume quarries in Ohio and on the Great Lakes, ships about 95% of its material to customers via lake freighters from its deep draft dock. Throughout Great Lakes ports, freighters are carrying an average of 15% less cargo due to low water levels and dredging issues. Though LaFarge reports no major issues, when the water level is low, they load less stone. 

Coast Guard Station Marblehead patrols from the Toussaint on the west to Vermilion on the east, north to the Canadian border, and also Sandusky Bay and the Portage, Sandusky and Huron Rivers. Chief Petty Officer First Class Phillip Null said that low water levels do not affect their ability to patrol and rescue. “We have the appropriate resources for any needs,” said Null. “We had to assist with a few more boaters that ran aground with last year’s low water.” Null said, however, that most of those incidents are handled by commercial boat rescue operators.

Null’s advice to boaters, especially to those that have not been on Lake Erie in a while and may be unaccustomed to the lower water levels: “Beware of weather, currents and low waters. Check for information. That is what we use.” 

Chief Petty Officer Second Class James Hassinger reminds boaters to dress warmly, especially this time of year, to always wear a life vest and to carry a cell phone. He also encourages boaters to take the safe boating class offered on Saturday by the Coast Guard Auxiliary at the Station.

The most commonly recognized effect of low water in this area is at the many private marinas, where water levels determine the size of the boats that can be docked and launched. 

Commodore John Schaffner of the Port Clinton Yacht Club that sits at the mouth of the Portage River said that soundings were taken and it was determined that no dredging would be needed this year. Still, sailboats with deeper keels may be affected by low water levels.

For more information on water levels, For information on weather from Coast Guard Station Marblehead, To track lake freighter traffic, For information on local marinas, access their individual websites.

Boating Safety Class

U S Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 16-12 will be conducting the About Boating Safely Class at the US Coast Guard Station Marblehead, 606 Prairie Street, Marblehead, on Saturday, April 20. 

This one-day program, from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 pm, is open to the public. A tour of the station will also be offered to all participants.

The $35.00 registration fee can be paid the day of the class. For those age 18 and under, it is free upon successful course completion.

To register or obtain more information, call Chris Nelson at 419- 307-5513, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

back to top