Byline: Associated Press/John Flesher
ONEKAMA, Mich. (AP) — For more than a century, easy access to Lake Michigan has made Onekama a popular place for summer visitors and a refuge for boaters fleeing dangerous storms. Now, the community itself needs a rescue, from slumping lake levels that threaten its precious link to open water.
The Great Lakes, the world’s biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year’s almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages.
The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasureboats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.
Some of the greatest suffering is in small tourist towns that lack the economic diversity of bigger port cities. Yet they are last in line for federal money to deepen channels and repair infrastructure to support the boating traffic that keeps them afloat.
The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that about 30 small Great Lakes harbors will need attention in the next couple of years. A few communities have begun trying to raise needed funds for dredging locally, at a time when federal funding for the much-needed work seems to have dried up.
Lake Michigan’s level at the end of October was more than 2 feet below its long-term average. The Corps of Engineers said without heavy snowfall this winter, the lake may decline to its lowest point since recordkeeping began.