Boat Safety / June 26, 2017

Rising Great Lakes Water Levels: Boaters Alert

This spring has seen water levels in the Great Lakes rise to dangerous, unheard of levels, causing havoc with homes and properties around the lakes, but also with the boating industry. What is happening to the Great Lakes, and what do boaters need to be aware of?

Why are water levels rising?

Water levels in the five Great lakes are climbing to a significant degree, according to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, with Lake Ontario expected to rise the most (17 inches), Lake Superior 12 inches, Lake Huron and Michigan 8 inches and Lake Erie, always the shallowest of the five bodies of water, to rise five inches. After a number of years where water levels in the Great Lakes have been alarmingly low, ongoing heavy rains, melting snow and heavy winds have taken their toll. Lake levels are usually expected to peak in May or June, but given that 2016 water levels didn’t peak until July, it is anybody’s guess when they will start to taper off.

Boaters beware

While the issues around flooding are clear for homeowners, higher-than-usual water levels also present a number of dangers for boaters, making boating insurance more critical than ever. Parks Canada delayed the season opening as many boat ramps and docks are submerged, and a long list of Ontario yacht and sailing clubs are closed until levels subside. Boaters are being warned to keep an eye posted for large debris such as tree limbs, picnic benches, and tires, all resulting from inland flooding. Other concerns aren’t necessarily obvious or apparent to the naked eye. High water levels can cause sandbars to shift, and can also cover up obstacles on the shore that used to be visible – these issues increase your chances of running aground, so anyone on a boat is warned to travel slowly. Submerged docks with electrical service also put swimmers in danger, so staying out of the water until levels return to normal is important.  With so many additional hazards with high water levels, make sure your boat insurance is up-to-date.

Industries take a hit

The high waters have affected people’s livelihoods as well. Tourism has been put on hold in lakeside areas damaged by flooding and mud. And the muddy and debris-filled waters mean that the sport fishing industry has also taken a significant hit. Many fishing derbies have been cancelled due to inaccessible docks, resulting in the loss of an important income source, and while fishing is possible farther afield, it is more costly to get there.

Better boating this summer

The upside? In 2013, water levels in the Great Lakes hit their lowest point since Canada and the U.S. started tracking them one hundred years earlier. Low water levels can be devastating for the lakes’ ecosystems, as well as industries such as hydroelectricity, tourism and commercial shipping. Despite the challenges presented to recreational boaters in the spring, higher water levels are a welcome turn-around from a couple of years ago, and recreational boaters on the Great Lakes can look forward to a great summer on the water.

In the News

City News:  Lake Ontario water levels stabilizing, but remain high: officials
The Star: Toronto braces for more rain with Lake Ontario at record-breaking levels


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