Record High Lake Levels Good For Shipping, Bad for Shoreline

Experts say more water is better for carrying shipping cargo, but more damaging to shoreline especially with storms.

DULUTH, Minn.- Water levels on Lake Superior have been in an upward trend, breaking record averages for July, still months away from the Fall when they’re expected to rise.

As of Monday Lake Superior sits at 603.22 ft for the month of July. It is 14 inches above the norm for the month.

According the Associate Director of Outreach with the Minnesota Sea Grant, this is due to increased precipitation and climate change warming the air so it holds more moisture.

He expects the trend to continue, spelling disaster for shoreline infrastructure.

“Well with those high water levels you get all that erosion along the shoreline,” Jesse Schomberg said. “And so we’re paying for it by having to fix the lakewalk again.”

“Brighton Beach for one, where the city is looking at how they can move the road inland away from the shoreline, because every storm it’s getting washed up and damaged.”

While “the lake battering the shoreline” is a familiar tune for the Northland, increased lake levels do have their benefits.

Shipping in the Great Lakes is enhanced when there’s more water to boat through.

“Higher water levels generally mean favorable conditions for shipping,” said Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca.

“So if you consider that every additional inch of water level meansĀ  about an extra 260 tons, that’s short tons, of cargo that can be carried by a thousand footer. That’s a benefit, right?”

DeLuca said they have not noticed any infrastructure, like docks or piers, damaged with storms yet. Though they recognize that as a potential risk.

Meanwhile neighboring Great Lake, Lake Michigan, is 31 inches above its July average.

According to Schomberg, that makes it harder for excess runoff from Lake Superior to empty into it.

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