Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life. 

Lake Michigan waves crash onshore at a beach in Frankfort, Michigan. Lakes Michigan and Huron were almost three feet above the June water level average.
Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio

Water levels in the Great Lakes continue to remain high. 

Every month this year, Lakes Michigan and Huron have surpassed record-high water levels set in the 1980’s. In June, those lakes were nearly three feet above average. 

Peter Payette

Grand Traverse County residents are having a hard time coping with the Great Lakes’ near record high lake levels.

“We’re seeing unprecedented storms and high, high levels in the lakes and groundwater, and the combination is just causing a lot of issues unfortunately,” said Arthur Krueger, director of municipal utilities for Grand Traverse County.

One of these issues is regular flooding in basements of local homes and businesses. Some desperate residents have turned to illegal solutions.

"Sunset Station" in Arcadia Township has been devestated by high waters from Lake Michigan pounding its shoreline.
Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio

Water levels in the Great Lakes are really high right now. Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie are all breaking records and creating all sorts of problems for communities on their shores.

Two floods, two weeks and too much water

Jun 11, 2020
Dan Wanschura

The second extreme rain event in two weeks has led to yet another sewage spill in the Boardman River in Traverse City.

 

A public health advisory has gone into effect, and the Grand Traverse County Health Department has advised the public to stay out of the water at beaches including Clinch Park, Sunset Park, Bryant Park and the Grand Traverse Senior Center. 

 

Potential new cormorant management plan

Jun 11, 2020
Sam Corden

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has crafted a new plan to address double-crested cormorant conflicts in the US.

 

It proposes killing as many as 77,000 of the migratory birds in the Mississippi and Central flyways each year. That covers 24 states, including Michigan.  The FWS estimates the population in the region is about 500,000 migrating cormorants, which nest in Canada, the Great Lakes and other parts of the upper Midwest. 

 

Classical IPR in Concert: A Tribute to Rick Jones

Jun 3, 2020
Debra Jenner-Townsend

If you’ve lived in northern Michigan long enough or have been a frequent visitor, then you may have attended a performance of the northern Michigan ensemble Song of the Lakes.  

In the early 1980s, Ingemar and Lisa Johansson, Mike Sullivan and Rick Jones began playing and performing sea shanties and traditional Irish melodies. Their charisma and energy attracted audiences around the world, and soon they were known as the unofficial Ambassadors to the Great Lakes.  

 

Piles of debris sit on shore near the Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort.
Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio

As if shoreline erosion wasn’t enough, communities and property owners on Lake Michigan are now dealing with another problem due to record high water levels — trash. Up and down the lake, large amounts of it are washing up on shore.

Gretchen Carr

Life in northern Michigan relies on the water, land, forests and other natural wonders of the upper Great Lakes region.  IPR is committed to journalism that deepens our understanding of the natural world. That world is changing and our journalism needs to keep up. 

 

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan Public Service Commission is seeking comment on whether Enbridge Energy needs its approval to re-site a segment of its Line 5 oil pipeline into a bedrock tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

Record Eagle/Pete Rodman

Enbridge Energy will not delay submitting permits for its controversial Great Lakes Tunnel Project because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tribal governments that oppose the project want Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to slow the process down. They say it’s impossible to prepare for public comment and official tribal consultations when most tribal staff are sheltering in place.

A conference room full of people facing the front, where a powerpoint is being given.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

ST. IGNACE — Enbridge Energy and the state of Michigan are moving forward with plans for a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, chose Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors to complete the project.

Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors was formed through a partnership with Michigan-based Jay Dee Contractors and the Japanese Obayashi Corporation.

Enbridge made the announcement ahead of a meeting with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority Friday in St. Ignace.

Michigan likely needs realtor buy-in to pass a septic code

Feb 28, 2020
A man in jeans and a lightly-colored coat stands on a front porch dusted with snow.
Mike Krebs / Traverse City Record-Eagle

Realtors and interest groups opposed to regulation are shaping septic system policies in Michigan's state and local politics.

Realtors don't like the idea of inspections tied to home sales. Anti-regulation lawmakers don't like the alternatives.

Noelle Riley / Interlochen Public Radio

Commercial fishers say a package of bills that cleared the Michigan House of Representatives last week will put them out of business. The bills would classify lake trout, walleye and perch as game fish, eliminating the option for a commercial harvest.

Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio

 

Lake Michigan’s water level is expected to reach a new record high for January, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The lake hasn’t been this high since 1986.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dams hurt native fish by blocking their access to rivers — but removing dams to let the fish through would open the way for invasive species.

A first-of-its-kind barrier designed to deal with this problem by sorting fish will be tested on the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City. If it’s successful, it could be a model for rivers all over the world.

What to do with dams

A long, thing metal pipe sits on a concrete floor.
Enbridge Energy

Enbridge Energy has retrieved a 45-foot steel rod it left in the Straits of Mackinac in September. Strong currents moved the rod 150 feet during its time underwater.

The company dropped the rod while sampling bedrock in preparation for building a tunnel under the straits.

The tunnel would replace Enbridge’s 66-year-old oil and gas pipelines that currently sit on the lake bottom.

People on kayaks work together to hold up a sign that says "SHUT DOWN LINE 5".
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Interlochen Public Radio has obtained emails between a private security contractor working for Enbridge Energy and several law enforcement agencies near the Straits of Mackinac.

The emails show the contractor kept tabs on anti-Line 5 activists (known as water protectors) in the Straits of Mackinac this summer. He shared information about their camp, protests and social media posts with local law enforcement.

A man points at a stove.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Tribal nations, Michigan’s governor and environmental groups are all calling for a shutdown of Line 5: the pipeline that carries oil underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

They say the pipeline, which is 60-plus years old, poses too great a risk of rupturing.

The pipeline doesn’t just carry oil — its liquid mix includes propane that is delivered to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So, what would happen to U.P. households using propane if Line 5 shut down?


A dead water bird, speckled black and white, lies on beach grass.
National Park Service

Dozens of dead loons washed up at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week. On Friday afternoon, the official carcass count was 32.

Robert Haase / Flickr

Gale warnings on the northern Great Lakes are in effect until late tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

Strong winds from the southeast will cause gusts that may exceed 40 miles per hour on the northern coast of Lake Michigan.

Most of Lake Superior is also under gale force winds advisory. 

The National Weather Service expects waves up to 19 feet.

They say there is an increased threat of lakeshore flooding in coastal areas throughout the weekend.

 

Jim Sorbie / Flickr

 

People who have homes on the sandy, eroding shores of Lake Michigan don’t have a lot of protections when it comes to insurance coverage. 

Regular homeowners insurance does not cover flooding or any land movement, including erosion of the land beneath a structure.

Banks that give loans to lakefront homes require flood insurance, which could possibly provide some erosion coverage.

The Association of State Floodplain Managers Alan Lulloff says erosion that happens after a storm could be covered.

Gary Langley / Interlochen Public Radio

This week on Points North, how rising water levels and shoreline erosion are threatening homeowners on the coast of Lake Michigan.

Plus, how businesses in Fishtown are already falling into the water.

Gary Langley, an FAA certified sUAS pilot / Interlochen Public Radio

 

Fishtown officials are looking to move three shanties — historic buildings — from their original location in an effort to repair foundations rotted by high water levels this summer. 

The shanties will be placed roughly 10 to 15 feet back from their current location. They will be encased in weatherproof material to protect the structures from Michigan’s harsh winter weather.

The price tag to move them and replace the foundations is about $1 million, says Amanda Holmes, executive director of Fishtown Preservation. 

A rocky river flows through a forest.
Tim Kiser/Wikimedia Commons

A tribe in Northern Wisconsin still wants Line 5 off their land, despite a $24 million offer from Enbridge.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sued Enbridge Energy earlier this year, asking them to immediately shut down the portion of the Line 5 oil pipeline that runs through their reservation.

Taylor Wizner / Interlochen Public Radio

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow visited Traverse City on Thursday to tout her plan to extend funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative has funded almost 900 projects in the northwest lower Michigan region, she says.

Earlier this month, Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced bipartisan-supported legislation that would renew funding for the initiative that expires next year. Her proposal would also increase the current budget by about 60 percent over the next seven years.

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