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Lower Lake Erie Water Levels


February 19, 1998

For more information, or for an electronic file of a Lake Erie water level
graph contact:

Fred L. Snyder, Ohio Sea Grant Extension
Camp Perry, Bldg. 3, Rm. 12
Port Clinton, OH 43452
Phone  (614) 336-6217 or (419) 635-4021, ext. 6217
e-mail:  snyder.8@osu.edu


Lake Erie's water level is likely to be significantly lower during the
summer of 1999 than it was just a year ago.  The declining level may pose
problems for boaters traveling in relatively shallow areas or for
deep-draft vessels in shallow channels.

Water levels on Lake Erie typically rise and fall throughout the year, with
the lowest levels occurring in January or February and the highest for the
year usually in June.  The annual cycle is caused by snowmelt and other
precipitation throughout the upper Great Lakes Basin in winter and spring
followed by evaporation and reduced runoff during summer.

Two years ago when wind-driven floods were covering low-lying coastal
lands, Lake Erie reached a June, 1997 peak of 574.2 feet (175.0 meters)
above sea level.  The 1998 summer peak was reached in May but was six
inches lower than the previous year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' forecast issued during February calls for
a June, 1999 Lake Erie level of 572.0 feet (174.3 meters) above sea level.
That would mean a drop of about 18 inches from last summer's peak and a
decline of about 2.2 feet from the summer of 1997.  This may be the lowest
summer peak experienced since 1967.

In addition, Lake Erie usually declines by one to two feet between the
summer peak and the end of September.  This will bring a further
significant reduction in channel depths by summer's end.

The declining lake level is caused by dry conditions affecting the Great
Lakes Basin.  Most of Lake Erie's water enters through the Detroit River
from the upper Great Lakes.  Precipitation over the Great Lakes was below
normal during most of 1998.

Lower summer water levels likely will pose problems for boaters operating
in shallow harbors and around reefs and shoals.  Some areas in which
boaters were accustomed to traveling in recent years may be too shallow for
safe passage by mid-to-late summer, particularly for sailboats and other
deep-keeled vessels.

Shoreline property owners may view the lower water levels more favorably.
High levels combined with strong northeast winds caused extensive flooding
and shoreline erosion in 1997 and early 1998.  The impending decline should
reduce the threat and severity of erosion and flooding.  Conditions may be
favorable this year for rebuilding dikes and other flood and
erosion-control structures.

Many of Lake Erie's recreational facilities in shallow harbors have been
developed during a 26-year span of above-average lake levels that began in
1972.  As low as this summer's lake levels may seem to boaters and marina
managers, the water is still forecasted to remain above the 81-year average
established between 1918 and 1998.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers compiles lake level records and issues
six-month predictions of coming levels.  Lake Erie's water levels are
controlled by weather patterns that span many months, and allow these
forecasts usually to be very accurate. 


Karen T. Ricker
Assistant Director and Communications Coordinator
Ohio Sea Grant College Program
The Ohio State University
1541 Research Center
1314 Kinnear Road
Columbus, Ohio 43212-1194
tel: (614)292-8949; fax: (614)292-4364; email: ricker.15@osu.edu