High Water Levels Cause Continued Flooding

Jun 6, 2018

Even in non-flood conditions, groundwater sits relatively close to the surface in parts of Kalamazoo County. In the areas shown in red, the depth to groundwater is less than two feet. See the map in more detail at https://www.kalcounty.com/drain/new_pdfs/depthtowater_portrait.pdf
Credit Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner's Office

Water at the surface and underground is much higher than usual in some parts of Michigan. That means flooding has continued to plague some communities.

At the surface, Lake Michigan is four inches above where it was this time last June and more than a foot above its long-term average level.

As for groundwater, Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner Pat Crowley points to the U.S. Geological Survey that monitor local levels . Eleven of the 22 wells in Kalamazoo County reached record high levels in March.

“Many of the rest of them were at high levels,” Crowley says.

In areas where the ground drains slowly, homeowners have watched their yards and basements fill with water. Crowley says she can’t think of a township in her jurisdiction that hasn’t seen flooding. She estimates that hundreds of homeowners have seen their properties flood.

Crowley says that people have been calling her office desperate to get the water out of their homes.

“There’s almost nothing that can be done because if they pump out, it just comes right back in,” she said.

Sealing a basement, she adds, can cause further damage.

“It’s sort of like holding a balloon underwater. You can sort of do that, but it puts a great deal of pressure on the structure,” she said.

Crowley says the land far away from rivers sometimes has the most trouble, because it can take longer to drain.

“If you live close to the river, the bad news is that you flood quickly, but sometimes you clean up and dry up more quickly.”

Crowley says some developers built too close to wetlands during dry years, setting houses up for flooding later on.

“There was a lot of building in 2000, when the water was down, and then it came back up again,” she said. “When they put their basement in it was dry but now it’s really wet.

“Now it’s really hard to find building sites that aren’t really wet because all the good ones have been taken.”

Western Michigan University geologist Alan Kehew says it’s natural for water levels to fluctuate.

“It’s just a very wet climatic period and it’s all part of normal climatic cycles,” Kehew said.

“We’re just apparently at one of the very peaks right now."

He says that whether Michigan dries out some this summer depends on how much rain falls.