Lake Superior's Water Level
Each year, Lake Superior goes through a normal fluctuation where the water level gets higher and lower. Lake levels follow a seasonal pattern, normally rising in the spring, peaking in the summer, and declining in the fall to a low during the winter. The lake level is only one factor that determines the severity of erosion. Erosion occurs regardless of how high or low the water level happens to be, especially during storms. However, some people feel that higher water levels make the erosion worse than if the levels were normal or below normal. It is interesting to note that when the lighthouse lost its entrance building to erosion in 1996, the lake level was higher than normal.
Factors Controlling Lake Superior's Water Level
Outflow from Lake Superior through the St. Marys River is regulated by the International Lake Superior Board of Control (http://ijc.org/en_/ilsbc), which was established in 1914 by the International Joint Commission (http://www.ijc.org). (The International Joint Commission was established in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada.) They are currently using Regulation Plan 2012 to regulate the outflow of water from Lake Superior. In determining the appropriate outflow levels, the Board not only has to consider the level of Lake Superior, but must also consider the level of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Changing water levels can affect drinking water intakes, commercial shipping, hydroelectric power generation, agriculture, shoreline property, recreation, fisheries, wildlife, wetlands and other interests. In other words, determining the outflow is not something that can be easily done by just looking at the current level of Lake Superior.
Other factors that affect Lake Superior's water level are the amount of precipitation the Lake Superior Basin receives and the rate of evaporation (this depends on ice cover in the winter, temperatures, cloud cover, etc.).
Current Lake Level
Just a few years ago many were getting nervous about the low water level of Lake Superior and whether or not the trend would reverse. Starting in April 2014, the levels went back up and are now slightly above average instead of being drastically low. In February 2017, Lake Superior's mean water level was 601.80 feet, which is down 0.20 feet from February 2016. A 2.4 inch decrease from last year isn't much, but it is at least going in the direction we would prefer. The long term average water level for Lake Superior in February is 601.25 feet (average was obtained from data from 1918-2015.) This means that in February 2017, Lake Superior was 0.55 feet (or 6.6 inches) above the February average. The highest level recorded for the month of February was in 1986, with a level of 602.46 feet. According to the Army Corps of Engineer's Forecast, it looks as if the water level will stay slightly above average through July 2017. This data was obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' web site.
We need ground cover to help prevent erosion and to help trap windblown sand-- indigenous (native) beach grasses, wild roses, lilacs, cottonwood, willows, white birch, maple, and pines. It is more likely that native plants will be able to survive the harsh conditions at Crisp Point. We always need volunteers to help water the plants. If you would like to help in this way, just take a bucket or some type of container down to the lake, fill it up, and take it around to the plants. This is one easy way to help the lighthouse.
Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) can also contribute to environmental damage surrounding the lighthouse. For example, vegetation that is vital to keeping and trapping sand around the lighthouse tower can be killed by ORVs. Due to the harsh conditions at the site, it may take many years for the damage to be reversed. In Michigan, some of the places where it is illegal to operate ORVs are on beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, and shorelines. For more information on ORV issues in Luce County, please visit http://www.LuceCountyORVdamage.com.
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Coastal Straightening and Erosion
The process of coastal straightening is always occurring, especially during storms. Usually the worst storms that Crisp Point has to face occur in November. With coastal straightening, wave energy is concentrated on land masses that protrude into the lake, causing them to erode away and the coast to become straight. If one looks at old pictures of Crisp Point, it is easy to see that this process is definitely occurring at Crisp Point. We have had to place large boulders and stone in front of the lighthouse to protect it from Lake Superior's waves. We must keep erosion control on our minds at all times, even if things seem good now. As we learned in November of 1996, it just takes a few major storms to take back everything we've gained. To make a donation to help protect Crisp Point from erosion, see the following page: http://www.crisppointlighthouse.org/how.html.
Crisp Point Light Historical Society Webmaster: Cameron Lovett
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Last Modified March 25, 2017