Lake Michigan’s Water Levels Reach 30-Year High

As the main water source for the city, Lake Michigan plays an important role in the lives of all Chicagoans. It plays an especially important role in the lives of those who live on the lakefront. As a result of Lake Michigan’s rising water levels, which have now reached a record thirty-year high, inhabitants of the condos and apartments on Lake Michigan are having to cope with property damage and erosion of the shoreline caused by the rising water levels. 

People have already witnessed these issues on the lakefront trails and the Riverwalk. According to CBS Chicago News, concerns are being raised about higher chances of beach erosion and shoreline flooding damage. The city is installing concrete barriers for a short amount of time in order to protect the beaches and lakefront trail from suffering any damage. 

During an interview with the Wick, inhabitant of the Lake Front, and former Oak Park resident, Joan Waldron, said, “When you live close to Lake Michigan, you never question the force of her existence. She can be serene and beautiful and then become a force with waves that move cars, cement blocks and flood nearby streets! [On January 17,] we watched the fifteen-foot waves literally eat away at beaches ripping out railroad ties [and] cement walls, [moving] cars parked nearby, and [shifting] 2,000-pound concrete blocks meant to protect local buildings. The street flooded, and we had to wade through the water to move our car two blocks away to prevent it from floating away. Those two blocks away, you would never know that Lady lake Michigan is kicking up such a fuss. Luckily no one was hurt. The water level is at [an] all-time [high], and the Chicago beach front is threatened by this [phenomenon] to include the lakefront walking [and] bike trails. I hope that the local authorities act to protect this natural resource to enjoy for many years to come.”

Citizens want to know if the rising water levels will become a bigger problem in the future, and experts on the subject are saying that it isn’t clear right now, but that the levels are likely to drop this fall and stay in a normal range. The factor that has the most impact on Lake Michigan is climate change; this is mostly because for the past five years, Chicago has had a lot of heavy rain and reduced evaporation. 

Ms. Elizabeth Timmons, a member of the Fenwick Faculty and Science Department, shared with us some of her concerns and how she sees climate change actively affecting Chicago. She said, “I think the biggest impacts are going to be on the shore. We are going to see a lot of eroding coastlines, damage to buildings, and damage to pretty much everything that is along the coast. If there aren’t barriers put in place, beaches could start to disappear, or at least noticeably shrink. Along with erosion, climate change causes dramatic fluctuations to normal patterns and faster changes. This is what we are currently seeing with the changes in lake levels.”

According to CBS Chicago News, the weather service says that it would require 2.3 trillion gallons of water to raise the lake by half a foot. In June 2019, Lake Michigan’s water levels were 581 feet. As of now, the water levels are at about 582 feet. The median for Lake Michigan is about 579 feet, so obviously, this is a large concern for residents. If, in fact, the water levels of Lake Michigan continue to rise, Chicagoans can expect to see more flooding in the streets of the city and more deterioration of the lakefront. 

Besides causing chaos to the lakefront, rising water levels will also play a key role in our weather. While we are slowly coming into a warmer atmosphere, the chance for intense storms is growing. These storms are predicted to increase agricultural runoff and sewage overflows. Such effects would contribute greatly to the mounds of pollution that build up in our city. It is more frightening when people come to find that Chicago is one of the country’s most polluted cities. According to ArcGIS Online, 22 million pounds of plastic are found in the Great Lakes each year. If Lake Michigan’s water levels continue to increase, we could expect to get a bit of the 22 million pounds of plastic that is dumped into our Great Lakes annually.