Record high Lake Michigan water level in January causing serious lakefront erosion damage

PORTAGE, Ind. (WLS) -- Last summer Lake Michigan came inches short of setting a new high level water mark. In January 2020 the first monthly water level record has already been broken, and the resulting soil erosion is having dramatic impacts.

Ogden Dunes in Portage shut down last week after the stunning walkways and beaches at the national lakeshore were closed for safety reasons.

Lake Michigan has never been higher at this time of year, and that may be the new normal.

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Tony Kwaitkowski is a fisherman. He comes to the national lakeshore at Ogden Dunes to catch coho salmon, and watch his special place disappear.

"We have these strong northwest winds and you can see the waves crashing over there," he said. "The rocks that they got protecting that walkway over there are being under washed and pushed back out into the lake."

Those waves are getting stronger as lake levels average about four inches above the previous January high set in 1987.

Milder temperatures and lots of rain this winter have accelerated runoff into the Great Lakes, according to the Army Corp. of Engineers, and lakefront communities from Chicago to Michigan are paying the price.

"The lake is a near record high and that continues to eat away at our beaches," said Mike Gonzalez, spokesman for the city of Portage. "And then we are also hoping that the state of Indiana will declare a state of emergency along our beaches and that will free up some resources to find a solution."

The national visitor center at Ogden Dunes and its associated trails were built just a few years ago for $17 million. Now they're in jeopardy.
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