Lake Michigan waters predicted to hit record highs, Kewaunee council told
KEWAUNEE – Water levels in Lake Michigan are predicted to set records in the next six months, according to a presentation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District at Monday night's Kewaunee Common Council meeting.
Physical Scientist Deanna Apps presented a forecast for water and weather conditions on the lakes and Emergency Management Specialist Krystle Walker discussed Corps of Engineers programs to assist communities and individuals dealing with flooding.
"This is our educational opportunity to know what we can expect … what resources are available," Mayor Sandi Christman said before introducing Walker and Apps.
Besieged by high amounts of precipitation and strong winds whipping in off Lake Michigan, the city has been dealing with floods and erosion from the lake for the past year. Among the city's concerns are threats not only to home owners but to its wastewater treatment plant, city marina and waterfront businesses, especially those involved with boating and fishing that bring tourists to the city.
"I beg the city to be more proactive on getting ready for next spring," Tom Kleiman, Jr. of Accurate Marine said during the public comment part of the meeting, before the Corps presentation.
Apps noted monthly mean lake levels measured by the Corps — the average level across the entire lake over a given month, not at a specific location on the lake — did not set a record in any month on Lake Michigan/Huron in 2019, although they were "well above average" and close to records set in 1986 and '87. The Corps considers Michigan and Huron as one body of water for statistical purposes.
Other Great Lakes had record levels in several months last year. Apps said the Great Lakes Basin has seen the wettest 12-, 24, 48- and 60-month periods of the past 120 years.
And, with this January's mean level higher than last January's and a three-month weather forecast of below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation, Apps said the Corps is forecasting water levels on Lake Michigan/Huron to be 1 to 4 inches above previous records for each of the next six months. She said levels generally are at their lowest in winters and highest in summers.
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Responding to a question from City Administrator Fred Schnook, Apps said she didn't know the previous or forecast levels for the waters off Kewaunee or any specific location within the Great Lakes. Walker said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) likely would have those numbers.
"Having that knowledge would be truly helpful in planning for what's coming … because we're planning physical defenses," Alderman Arthur Schiller said.
Walker said because no place in Kewaunee County has been declared a federal disaster area, the Corps' possible emergency response operations for local floods falls under what's commonly called Public Law 84-99, which authorizes the Corps to supplement local efforts from preparing for floods to dredging and rescue. She noted erosion repair does not fall under those provisions.
Walker said the Corps offers two types of emergency assistance under 84-99: Technical and Direct Technical assistance supplies personnel who can provide guidance on flood prevention, repair and analysis. It comes at no cost to communities, and Kewaunee is one of five counties in Wisconsin — along with Brown, Oconto, Marinette and Portage — and eight in Michigan now receiving technical assistance.
"Essentially, it's our ability to provide you knowledge," Walker said.
Walker mentioned a couple tips, such as filling sandbags two-thirds full and stacking them in a pyramid shape, which she said is most effective to hold back water.
Direct emergency assistance mainly consists of providing supplies and equipment to fight floods, such as sandbags and barriers. These are meant only for public infrastructures, not private residences or businesses, and they must be paid for or the cost reimbursed. Also, a number of federal flood relief programs require approval and can take several years to implement. She said she's not aware of any such programs designed to help individual home owners.
Other key takeaways Walker noted from her presentation are that the Corps partners with state and county emergency management programs, so those with concerns should contact city or county officials first, and those building erosion protection structures need to make sure they have required permits.
After the meeting, Christman said the main thing she and the council learned was about additional resources from the Corps for flood fighting and how to obtain them. She said the wastewater treatment plant and the city marina are the most important sites to protect from floods.
"You have to approach this strategically. You can't just go around and bandage everything," Christman said. "We need to protect infrastructure first. It's hard, you see the way people struggle. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of options for John Q. Public."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Lake Michigan waters predicted to hit record highs, Kewaunee council told