Q. What causes Lake Erie water levels to change?
A. About 80% of the water flowing into Lake Erie comes through the Detroit River from the Upper Great Lakes. As a result, the level of Lake Erie is determined primarily by precipitation in the watersheds of 5 states and 2 Canadian provinces that drain into the Upper Great Lakes and by evaporation from the surface of the Upper Great Lakes. The volume of water in the Upper Great Lakes and inflow to Lake Erie decrease during periods of lower precipitation and higher evaporation causing the level of Lake Erie to decline. Conversely, the volume of water in the Upper Great Lakes and inflow to Lake Erie increases during periods of higher precipitation and lower evaporation causing the level of Lake Erie to rise. Presently, above normal water levels in Lake Erie are the result of above normal precipitation. During the past 4 months precipitation has averaged above normal in the entire Great Lakes basin and more than 5 inches above normal in the Lake Erie basin.
Long-term changes in lake level occur when changes in precipitation and evaporation last several years to decades. For example, from 1973 to 1997 normal to above-normal precipitation in the Upper Great Lakes increased the inflow of water to Lake Erie, and the lake was above normal for most of this period. Long-term changes range from 5 to 6 feet.
Superimposed on the long-term changes in lake level are annual changes that occur as water from melting snow and spring rains enter the Great Lakes drainage system causing lake levels to rise. Lake level normally peaks by early summer, and then declines during the summer and fall in response to decreased precipitation and increased evaporation. The difference between mid-summer high and mid-winter low is typically about 1.5 feet.
Q. What are Lake Erie water levels today?
A. The Great Lakes Information Network maintains a web site that provides up-to-date information on current Great Lakes water levels from many sources.
Q. What are Lake Erie water levels going to be like this summer?
A. Each month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares a 6-month forecast of lake levels. These forecasts are available at The Great Lakes Information Network web site. Changing climatic conditions complicate the forecasting of future lake levels. A cold winter with above normal snow fall in the Upper Great Lakes, extensive ice cover to reduce evaporation, and normal or above normal spring rain would cause Lake Erie to rise higher than forecast. Conversely, a mild winter with below normal snow and little ice cover followed by a dry spring would result in a rise lower than the forecast.
Q. How have Lake Erie water levels varied historically?
A. Lake levels were at or slightly above the long-term average in the late 1800s, generally well below the long-term average from 1890 to 1967, and generally above the long-term average from 1968 through 2000. For the period of record (1860-2000), the difference between the highest monthly average and the lowest monthly average is about 6 feet, and the difference between the highest yearly average and the lowest yearly average is about 5 feet. Long-term changes in lake level result from long-term changes in precipitation and evaporation. Likewise, seasonal changes in lake level occur in response to annual changes in precipitation and evaporation in the basin, with lake levels generally lower in the winter and higher in the summer. Dramatic short-term changes in lake level (several feet over a few hours) can occur due to strong winds associated with changing weather systems. During severe storm events, the difference in water level between Buffalo and Toledo can exceed 16 feet.
Q. Can we control Lake Erie water levels?
A. No. A common urban legend is that there are water-level-control structures located on the Niagara River designed to control Lake Erie water levels; however, no such controls exist. Only Lake Superior and Lake Ontario have water-level-control structures, and regulation of these lakes is governed by treaty with Canada.
Q. Can I get my boat in the water?
A. Most launch ramp facilities provide adequate water for safe launching and retrieval of boats. However, low lake levels may limit access to smaller, shallower draft boats that can navigate through shallow areas to deeper waters. When planning a boating trip on Lake Erie, it is advisable to call ahead at your preferred launch area for current conditions.
Q. Where can I get Lake Erie charts?
A. Navigation charts for Lake Erie are available from local marinas, bait shops and other outlets. They are also available on the Internet.
Q. How can I get my area dredged and are there any funds to assist?
A. In order to dredge a specific area and dispose of the dredged sediment, permits are required from the Corps of Engineers and the Ohio EPA. Obtaining a permit will take several months so it is important to plan ahead. For more information, contact:
US Army Corps of Engineers
1776 Niagara St.
Buffalo, NY 14207-3199
122 South Front St.
P.O. Box 1049
Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049
Limited funds are available for dredging assistance through the ODNR Division of Watercraft?s Cooperative Boating Access Grant Program. Communities and public agencies can apply for dredging assistance on a competitive basis by contacting Dave Roseler at (419) 621-1402. Applications are due April 1st of each year. Commercial marinas, homeowners associations, and private clubs must rely on their own funding resources.
Q. Where can I get more information about changing Lake Erie water levels?
A. For more in-depth information about Lake Erie water levels please go to:
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Home Page
Historic and recent lake level graphics, climate outlooks, and forecasted
water supplies for the next 12 months.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Great Lakes Hydraulics & Hydrology Home Page