More than 100 people crowded into the Peninsula Township Hall last night for a presentation about the erosion taking place around northern Michigan and the Old Mission Peninsula, and what residents can do to protect and preserve that shoreline.
Organized by OMP resident Monnie Peters, the event featured presentations by Heather Smith, Grand Traverse Bay Baykeeper with The Watershed Center, and Mark Breederland from Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative program of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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Breederland explained how the interconnected-ness of the Great Lakes affects water levels, and noted that the water has actually been higher than it is today – by 9 inches in 1986. There’s even a website devoted to it called 1986Flood.com.
“In September of 1986, it rained every day,” he said. “Across the state, in two days, it averaged between 8 inches and 14 inches. There were 11 dams that blew out in those two days.”
Breederland said the Army Corps of Engineers has been measuring flat water levels since 1918, “and out of those 1200 months, all the records were set in 1986,” he noted.
Water Levels Likely to Go Up
He added that 2019 is right up there in terms of water levels. To put things in perspective, since 1918, the water levels in July 2019 take fourth place; sixth place goes to August 2019; and October 2019 is shaping up to take eighth place.
But it can vary widely within even just a few years. In January 2013, the water was at some of its lowest levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Breederland cautioned northern Michigan residents to “buckle your seatbelts,” because 2020 is shaping up to be another year of high water in northern Michigan. “There’s way more opportunity for it to go up right now than for it to come down,” he said. “The forecast is showing [January 2020] to be about 10 inches higher than last January.”
He added, “Right now there’s a lot of water in the system. We could really use some good strong evaporation to bring that down a little bit.” And because November is typically the windiest month of the year, “let’s hope we can get through it without significant damage.”
Heather Smith, Grand Traverse Bay Baykeeper, outlined some tips to help preserve and manage the 40 miles of Old Mission Peninsula shorelines, including how best to manage current and increasing erosion.
She noted that Peninsula Township has a number of zoning provisions that are meant to protect the coastal region, including flood plains, wetland setbacks and more. “Peninsula Township has been rather progressive on those things,” said Smith.
Tips for Managing Shoreline and Erosion
Avoid beach grooming or uprooting plants.
Buildings and impervious surfaces should be set back 50 to 100 feet from the ordinary high water mark. Relocate structures, if possible.
Maintain a buffer of plants between your home and the water or any wetland areas near the water. This is called a riparian, vegetated or greenbelt buffer.
Leave native vegetation in place, as it makes the shoreline more resistent to invasive plants, such as Phragmites.
Keep vegetation – particularly native vegetation – along at least 75 percent of your shoreline length.
Vegetation is the most critical weapon against sand erosion, especially trees and shrubs. It holds sand underneath it from blowing or being washed away, and catches blowing sand. When water levels rise, the swales and vegetation protect the shoreline from erosion and flooding.
If you’re looking for views of the water, prune the branches of trees and shrubs, do not cut them down. The roots protect water quality by filtering pollutants and guarding the shoreline from erosion.
Because of their root systems, trees, shrubs and plants are more effective in protecting shoreline than rocks or seawalls. Hardened surfaces such as rocks and seawalls increase energy in waves and cause more erosion.
Do not channel runoff directly into the bay. Contour your property to direct runoff into low areas where it can collect temporarily and soak into the ground or where vegetation has an opportunity to absorb the water.
Think twice about a traditional manicured lawn, which because of its short roots, cannot absorb a lot of nutrients. Also, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can run off your yard and into the bay. Opt instead for a mixture of native plants, sedges, shrubs and trees.
The shoreline workshop was videotaped, and copies will be available for checkout in about two weeks at Peninsula Community Library.
Also, copies of the recently-updated booklet published by The Watershed Center, “Up North Shoreline: Stewardship Guide for Living on Grand Traverse Bay,” are available at the Peninsula Township offices.
Monnie Peters notes that she will be organizing another shoreline workshop in the spring, so stay tuned to Old Mission Gazette for more info about that.
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