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Unpredictable Water Levels a Concern for Boaters


By. Steve Hartman


It’s one thing to say that it’s been a strange year for weather; it’s another thing to say that every year. It seems that the past few years have provided us with some unpredictability. Whether there have been torrential downpours for what seems like weeks, heat waves, cold snaps or dry spells, the boaters have had to pay attention to changing conditions and even new rules when taking to the water for recreation.


On the western side of the country, folks are dealing with a drought in northern California that’s plaguing some of the best known lakes for boating. Shasta County sheriffs have placed restrictions on Lake Shasta which include “No Ski” areas in some of the arms where the water levels are dangerously low as well as complete closures or restricted boat speeds.


Head down about 3 hours from Lake Shasta to Sacramento and you’ll find boaters facing a shortened summer due to the drought. According to CBS in Sacramento, residents on Folsom Lake will be ordered to have their boats out of the lake by August when usually they keep them in throughout the fall as late as October.


Lake Shasta Water Levels and Restrictions


If you head a little eastward in Utah you’ll find a similar situation plaguing the area lakes. In a report from the Salt Lake City Tribune, there are lakes where the boating surface area is shrinking daily causing a dangerous level of boats and overcrowding. Some lakes have restricted how many boats can access the lakes and fear that ramps in which the boats launch from could be completely out of the water by summer’s end.


The world looks a little rosier on the opposite side of the Rocky Mountains though. The Great Lakes have suffered from low levels recently but some are seeing a comeback.


In December of 2012, an report stated that Lakes Michigan and Huron were at the lowest levels since recording started in 1918 due to a combination of a dry year and little snow. This not only causes concern for boaters and watersports enthusiasts but also effects shipping and transportation.


But here’s the good news. Coming off of a rainy spring, Lakes Huron and Michigan were actually a little above normal for this time of year and Lake Superior was over an 1.5 inches above normal. (Lake Superior drains into Lakes Huron and Michigan which helps ease the burden). For boaters hoping to get back to a completely normal lake level, they will need to hope for a cooler and wetter finale to the summer along with a snowy winter.


Great Lakes Water Levels Up and Down


Finally, if you boat along or near the Mississippi River, you should see the water right where it should be. It was a little sketchy at the beginning of the year but according to a report by WREG in Memphis, the Mississippi is at a perfect level to help keep river traffic moving steadily.


In the ebb and flow of weather patterns across the vast United States, you can see good years and bad years all in the same year. Consistent dry and warm weather over a few seasons will dramatically increase the likelihood of water levels decreasing and remaining that way but the weather patterns in a single season can also dramatically effect the boating and water sports enthusiasts ability to stay on the lake.


In the Midwest, when a summer is dry like it was in 2012, more water will evaporate and water levels drop but if you follow that with a rain-heavy 2013 summer, you will see the lakes and rivers return to normal.


The fate of Sacramento and its local lakes are uncertain. The average rainfall is 18.52 inches per year. Last year they were six inches shy at 12.21in which contributed to this year’s drought, however, the year before that they were well over at 23.12in.

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