Army Corps Predicts High Waters On Lake Erie Through End Of 2019

Riprap along the shore of Lake Erie near Buffalo helps prevent erosion.
Riprap along the shore of Lake Erie near Buffalo helps prevent erosion. [Jon T. Powers / Shutterstock]

After three months of record high water, Lake Erie water levels are starting their seasonal decline, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Lake Erie did establish new record highs for the month of May, for the month of June and the month of July,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, Chief of Watershed Hydrology for the Corps’ Detroit District office. “The June monthly mean is the highest recorded level over the past 100 years. So it has never been higher in any month going back to 1918.”

Kompoltowicz, who is in charge of water level forecasts, warns the outlook over the next six months includes continued high water across the region.

“The levels on each of the Great Lakes are expected to enter the fall season higher than they have been in the last 35 years,” he said. “During the fall, there’s a greater chance for powerful storm systems that can cause rapid fluctuations in water levels and tremendous waves along the Great Lakes coasts.”

The Corps says high winds could push Lake Erie’s waters from Toledo to Buffalo. That means the difference in water levels from the western end of the lake to the eastern end could be as much as 16 feet. Kompoltowicz warns lakefront residents to be prepared for “potentially significant coastal impacts” resulting in continued erosion and flooding.

The Corps' Detroit District emergency manager, Patrick Kuhne, says the Corps can help local communities in the event of emergency flooding.

“We can provide materials such as sand bags, plastic sheeting, pumps or other materials or equipment that would protect in the event of a flood,” said Kuhne.

For longer term solutions, the Corps' Buffalo District office, which oversees the Cleveland area, says it can expedite the permit process for private property owners in the event of critical cases such as damaged structures or other immediate needs to protect the shoreline. 

Kompoltowicz says the high water is the culmination of wetter than average weather for the past six to seven years.

“Very recently in 2019 we had a very healthy snow pack on the ground in the Great Lakes basin heading into the spring, that was on top of already saturated soils from a wet fall of 2018. And then unbelievable amounts of rainfall in the spring,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District launched a new website Tuesday to address high water concerns.

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