Great Lakes
High water levels have swallowed almost all of the dog beach at Pinery Provincial Park on Wednesday. At some areas only two metres separate the water from the bank. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Water worries shore thing as Great Lakes rise

Vanishing beaches, submerged docks and inundated cottages could put a damper on summer for many as Great Lakes water levels hit record highs, officials say.

Vanishing beaches, submerged docks and inundated cottages could put a damper on summer for many as Great Lakes water levels hit record highs, officials say.

As of July 1, Lake Erie’s static (calm) water level was 175.17 metres, 82 centimetres above average for this time of year — beating the previous record, set in 1986, by 13 cm — says St. Thomas-based Kettle Creek Conservation Authority, which has issued a July flood watch for its jurisdiction.

On Lake Huron, latest federal government figures show May’s water level was 177.17 m, 69 cm above the monthly mean. And Environment Canada said Wednesday lake waters were at record high levels.

Two federal departments — Fisheries and Oceans and Environment — report the other Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan and Ontario — and Lake St. Clair all above all-time average highs and project water levels will remain above average all summer.

One of the most noticeable side-effects of the rising waters has been shrinking beaches.

RELATED

In Bayfield, councillor Bill Whetstone estimates as much as half the village’s beach has been lost to Huron’s rise, with some sections completely underwater.

“We’ve lost a good majority of our beach since last year,” he said. “I expect we will see a reduction in tourists using the beach this year.”

Whetstone said armour stones have been moved back, closer to the beach’s parking lot, to create more sand area for people to use.

“If we wouldn’t have done that, I’m not sure there would be any beach left.”

Rising lake levels are also a concern for boaters, with marinas in Lake Erie communities, such as Port Stanley and Port Bruce, feeling the effects.

“It impacts marinas, both in safety and access,” said Peter Dragunas, water management technician at Catfish Creek Conservation Authority in Aylmer. “In some areas, access to roads have been washed out. The docks could be underwater, and that becomes a safety hazard for boaters.”

Dragunas said he’s also heard of cottages flooding near the creek’s mouth on Lake Erie.

                                                It’s a similar story in the cottage belt of Rondeau Bay, farther south along the Erie shore.

“High water levels have significantly impacted our cottage community and the enjoyment . . . of our cottages,” said Brian French, vice-president of the Rondeau Cottagers Association. “I’ve been out here 50-plus years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Ground in the area is saturated, so water pools for hours after rainstorms, French said. And on windy days, waves often push bay water onto the shore.

“Rondeau Bay has reached the very top of breakwalls and its natural shoreline,” he said. “Even another inch or two could result in unprecedented flooding bayside.”

Concerns also have been raised for Canada’s southernmost point, Pelee Island, where Erie’s high waters have led to flooding and shoreline erosion.

But as the region faces shrinking shorelines, it’s important to remember that lake levels rise and fall naturally over time, said Daniela Klicper, coastal stewardship co-ordinator with the Lake Huron Centre for Conservation.

“We go through these cycles. It is a natural phenomenon,” she said. “It’s part of the give and take of our beach and dune ecosystem.”

mamartin@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/MaxatLFPress

See The London Free Press article . . .