How high’s the water, Mama? Rising Lake Erie, nor’easters again pummel Ottawa County shoreline

May 16, 2019 | Featured | 0 comments

High water and a steady string of nor’easters has inundated the Ottawa County shoreline, and beyond. On East Harbor, many of the marinas have been flooded, with docks under water and only boats and their tie-down lines visible last weekend.


The Army Corps of Engineers has forecast Lake Erie will slowly breach its all-time high water mark in the new few weeks. The big lake had already reached 574.41 feet over sea level late last week, about 4 inches higher than the record for the month, which occurred in 1986, and 2.5 feet above the long-term average for the month of May.

It estimates that the high water already causing serious problems this spring will continue through June, but summer evaporation should stabilize Lake Erie.

When a nor’easter begins to blow, it severely affects the Ohio shoreline by causing Lake Erie to tilt, with local water levels rapidly rising along the lake shoreline, as well as in the rivers. With record high levels already, towns such as Port Clinton are experiencing flooding, especially along the Portage River, and properties along Lake Erie suffer from flooding and erosion.

“We’re blesses to live in a coastal town, but we have to embrace all that comes with it,” said Port ClintonSafety-Service Director Olen Martin. “Ice shoves on the shoreline in winter and high water in spring and early summer are certainly troublesome, but we have to take the bad with all of the good we do enjoy.

“About all the city can do is to quickly put up sawhorses with ‘high water’ signs, and make sure the city’s pumps are functioning properly and moving storm water the best we can.”

The hardest hit area in Port Clinton is West Madison Street, in front of the Great Lakes Popcorn Company, Port Clinton Fisheries and Fishermen’s Wharf. There was a rumor last weekend that a walleye swam in from the Portage River and was caught.

The high water is a bonus to pleasure boaters and freighters, giving them deeper waters over reefs and shoals and in harbor areas. If marina docks are low, high water can make it extremely difficult to access pleasure and fishing boats and can strain tie-downs and sink boats. The East Harbor dredge boat did sink recently after brisk northeast winds pounded those harbor area waters.

While the northeast winds have been strong, they have yet to match the 2018 spring season. A full-bore nor’easter severely damaged the LaFargeHolcim stone dock on Marblehead, and the roadway at Marblehead Point near the Port Clinton Lighthouse.

For summer visitors, high water also shrinks the size of the sandy beaches they enjoy so much, and causes wide-ranging erosion. Ohio’s Office of Coastal Management has instituted a Temporary Shore Structure Permit program to allow coastal property owners to protect themselves from catastrophic erosion.

All of the Great Lakes have exceptionally high water, and it can only be minimally controlled by the states, provinces and Corps of Engineers. Lake Erie is reporting the highest different from chart datum, at 63 inches, and all of the others are high, as well, including lakes St. Clair (+58 inches), Ontario (+55 inches), Michigan and Huron (+44 inches) and Superior (+20 inches). Waters across the basin are 8 to 12 inches above last year’s water levels.

In response to the rising water levels on Lake Erie, the Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District stands ready to use its authority to supplement local and state efforts during and following flood conditions along Lake Erie.

Technical assistance consists of providing review and recommendations in support of state and local efforts, and helping determine feasible solutions to uncommon situations. The following are examples of technical assistance:

Providing experienced personnel to give guidance on flood fight techniques and emergency construction methods.

Providing personnel to inspect existing flood protection projects and/or structurally threatened dams to identify problem areas and recommend corrective measures.

Providing hydraulic analysis, geotechnical evaluations, topography and stream data, maps, and historic flood or storm information.

“The District has not received any formal requests for assistance, but we stand ready to supplement local and state flood fight efforts, and look forward to working with our community partners,” said Lt. Col. Jason Toth, Buffalo District Commander.  “We are committed to doing our part to ensure public safety by providing vital public and military engineering services.”

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