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To the relief of many, Lake Erie heading back to normalcy

By TOM HENRY • Jul 17, 2019 at 1:00 PM

PUT-IN-BAY — Don't fret. That unusually high Lake Erie water level can't last forever.

Can it?

Thankfully, no, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which now says it expects Lake Erie to recede by five inches in the next month. Seasonal declines also are expected for the other Great Lakes, all of which have been at or near record-high levels this summer.

The peak usually hits this time of year.

The corps said on its website that levels for July 12 either met or exceeded the record high July monthly mean for each of the lakes except Lake Michigan-Huron, which has been one inch below its record mean level this month.

The water levels of lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron are expected to remain the same during the next month. Besides Lake Erie's expected drop, lakes St. Clair and Ontario are expected to recede three and 10 inches, respectively, the corps said.

All of it is welcome news to Billy Market, Miller Boat Line co-owner and operator, who said he's been waiting for the peak to hit and for Lake Erie to start receding again.

It hasn't been a whole lot of fun, he said, asking patrons to slosh through ankle-deep water to get on and off company ferries.

Riders have taken it in stride, many taking off their sandals and shoes and giggling as lake water that has splashed ashore cools their feet.

But that kind of novelty remains fun for only so long. Market said he's grateful he hasn't had to cancel more trips than he has, and that people have kind of gone with the flow -- so to speak.

"Let's just say it's been a challenge," he said. "We're making adjustments. We're dealing with it. We do hope the forecast is right and that we've peaked out and will soon see receding water."

The Internet has had images of people canoeing across parts of downtown Put-in-Bay. At one point this spring, locals said it was as if South Bass Island had been cut in half.

It's never been quite that dramatic, according to Marv Booker, a co-owner of The Boardwalk and several other Put-in-Bay eating establishments and businesses. The Boardwalk is one of South Bass Island's more iconic establishments because in addition to its large dining area and popular seafood, it juts out over Lake Erie.

"For the most part, everyone's adapted to it," Booker said of the unusually high seasonal water levels. "It's obviously a little inconvenient. But we're adapting to it, the whole island is."

And he agrees wholeheartedly the impact of wind is highly underrated. Strong winds from the northeast can make the water level several feet higher.

A South Bass tram operator told some Put-in-Bay visitors Thursday that the few puddles left were all that was left of a foot or more of standing water along certain roads.

According to Market, that's because the wind came in from the west and blew water out instead of toward the island.

"I love west wind," he mused.

The high water has been a result of an unusually heavy snow pack on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, which melted and made its way down. Of course, there also has been record and near-record rain throughout the Great Lakes region and much of the United States this spring.

Chris Winslow, Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Lab director, said Lake Erie's high water levels have forced the cancellation of several events, including field trips for area high school and middle school students. The portion of the lab out on Gibraltar Island has been inaccessible for all but the most adventurous because of flooded or excessively slippery docks.

"This isn't something that is a surprise to us," Winslow said. "All five lakes are above their water levels for height. This is something we're going to be dealing with for the next handful of years."

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