State Cautions: Boaters in Michigan Should be Aware of Water Levels and Debris

State Cautions: Boaters in Michigan Should be Aware of Water Levels and Debris

(EGLE, July 3, 2020)

Many areas around Michigan have experienced damaging impacts of record or near-record high water levels that have caused extensive erosion and inundated infrastructure. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and its partners on the High Water Action Team warn those who recreate on the water to watch out for debris in lakes or rivers or along the shores due to the high water levels.

As lake levels have risen, the impact is being felt in a number of ways. Along the Great Lakes, erosion and storms have undermined docks, decks, stairs and trees and washed the debris away from the shoreline. On inland lakes, high water can inundate marinas, yards or public property, making it difficult to see structures in the water.

“As Michiganders take to the water for recreation, they should use more caution and be aware of dangers that can be lurking in the water, either floating on the surface or submerged by record high water levels,” said Jay Eickholt, EGLE’s Emergency Management Coordinator. “As always, follow all boating regulations and wear life-saving equipment when out on the water. And avoid any debris to protect your watercraft and keep everyone safe.”

Things to watch out for in the water and onshore include wooden docks, stairs, decks, trees, structure pilings, nails, screws, shattered boards, branches, exposed rocks, or other man-made and natural debris. Boaters should be aware of any floating items which could damage hulls or engine propellers, or injure anyone who is being towed on flotation devices behind boats. Also, be aware to avoid flooded areas when driving to or from your destination. Even six inches of water can easily cause a vehicle to lose control and two feet of water can sweep away a vehicle.

High water levels can also magnify the impact that wakes can have on other boats, shoreline property and structures, and others enjoying the water. Observe all local watercraft controls and restrictions, as well as “No Wake” zones. Wakes from vessels can cause overflow onto land or docks, potentially causing property damage, erosion and flooding, and safety concerns. The Department of Natural Resources provides a county-by-county list of local water controls.

According to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS), damage to watercraft caused by debris in the water can also be costly without proper insurance coverage. Before getting out on the water, Michiganders should review their homeowners policy and/or their separate boating policy to verify appropriate coverage for this type of loss. Contact your insurance agent for more information or visit the DIFS website.

Property owners are urged to clear items from the shore that may have been damaged by high waves or erosion before they become a potential hazard for recreation. If any debris is washed up on shore, it is the responsibility of the property owner to dispose of it properly, following local rules governing waste removal. EGLE does not recommend open burning of any manmade waste items. Check local disposal ordinances for guidance.

High water levels and flooding of lakes and rivers can also increase exposure to sewage and chemicals. Avoid contact with floodwaters when possible. Beach and water conditions can be tracked through EGLE’s BeachGuard monitoring system or by contacting the local health department.

The Michigan High Water Action Team includes members of EGLE, DIFS, DNR, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Michigan State Police (MSP), as well as groups representing federal and local officials. The team was created following the Michigan High Water Coordinating Summit held in February to facilitate collaboration and resource sharing in response to public health and safety challenges created by Michigan’s historic high water levels.

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