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Near-record water levels on Lake Erie cause problems for homeowners

Lake Erie
Posted at 5:12 PM, May 10, 2019

AVON LAKE, Ohio — Summers at Elaine Rotz's lakefront property in Avon Lake mean time with the grandchildren.

"The grandkids especially come down and swim," Rotz said. "They jet ski. We have a lot of floats and different water boards and stuff like that to play with."

This year, though, Rotz and her husband haven't yet been able to find a contractor to fix their pier, which has been damaged by high water levels on Lake Erie. That could mean the pier is off limits to her family this summer.

"In the last few years, we’ve lost a lot of our pier," Rotz said. "We had it redone, I believe, last year, and this year, the storms have taken out the concrete pad, so it’ll have to be redone again."

Rotz, who has lived there since 1971, said while the water levels have risen and fallen over the years, the water levels now are much higher than when they built the pier. She described the situation as both scary and expensive.

"When we built the pier, it was a couple feet above the water, and now it’s maybe a few inches," Rotz said. "And with storms, the storms just come over, you know, six, eight feet over."

Water levels along Lake Erie are at near-record levels, according to a forecast released this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The forecast, published by the Detroit District, shows water levels are near the record set in 1986.

According to Keith Koralewski, chief of the hydraulics and hydrology and water management section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo, New York, it is normal for lake levels in the Great Lakes to rise in the springtime and early summer.

This year, though, "extremely wet" weather in the latter half of April has pushed lake levels even higher.

"As a whole, typically with high water levels, you can see flooding, shoreline flooding and erosion," Koralewski said. "Typically happens during wind events, when you do have more wave action and some of the waves hitting the coastline."

He noted that the impact varies depending on location on the Great Lakes.

"Some areas won’t necessarily see erosion impacts, where other areas may see significant impacts," Koralewski said.

Rotz said she and her husband are among many neighbors in Avon Lake who have seen their piers damaged and their beaches submerged, including one that adjoins their property.

Further down the road, Avon Lake's Miller Road Park Beach is closed due to high water, according to the city's parks and recreation department.

Nicole Haas, recreation program manager with the parks and recreation department, said there is currently no beach present at Miller Road Park because water levels are covering the beach completely. The same thing happened last year, Haas said, and this year, the city is anticipating the beach will remain closed all summer again. However, Veterans Memorial Park Beach, which is on higher ground, is expected to stay open.

Koralewski of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that the forecast is more like a roadmap that shows what could happen in the future, depending on precipitation levels, and that it cannot accurately predict what will happen.

"We can’t assume that they’re going to be elevated for many years to come," Koralewski said. "However, even if and when they do go down, we will have these high levels again in the future."

The high water levels, though they've changed many times over the years, are frustrating for homeowners like Elaine Rotz.

"It's just sad and frustrating, because you put so much into it, and we’ve lived here for almost 50 years," Rotz said. "You hope to have it for your kids and grandkids to play on, and it’s just not going to be this year."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said if people are experiencing problems due to flooding or erosion, they should contact their local officials or county emergency management.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there have been two Temporary Shore Structure Permits issued for shore protection projects in Avon Lake since the program's inception in May 2018.

Another eight permits were issued elsewhere in Lorain County, including two in Lorain, three in Sheffield Lake and three in Vermilion. A number of permits were also issued for Cuyahoga County and Lake County and one was issued in Ashtabula County.