Grand Haven, Mich. (April 2, 2013)
GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WZZM) - Record low water levels have many lakeshore communities in need of emergency dredging. WZZM 13 went on a boat tour with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as they begin to test water levels from Traverse City to Michigan City, Indiana.
"With these low water levels everyone wants to know how their harbor looks," says Eric Schmidt, a civil engineer tech for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Grand Haven.
The crew uses a device called a sounder to make sure the sonar system to measure depth is working.
"It sends sound waves through the water, reflects off the bottom," says Schmidt.
All the data shows up on a computer screen. A gray line shows where the water levels are and a black line shows where they should be. In Grand Haven, a depth of 21 feet is required for shipping.
"The center is pretty good, but on both sides of the channel you can see it's starting to fill in," says Schmidt as he points to the computer screen. "You can envision a four lane highway, now you're down to a two lane highway, or maybe even one lane."
One area near the pier was only nine feet deep, and in another part of river there was a newly created sandbar where birds have already made a home.
"Last year, this was all water-- it was shallow, but we were at least able to get the boat in," says Schmidt.
In Grand Haven, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says its top priority is making sure the water is passable for cargo ships, because if it's not that could pose problems for the local economy and the harbor as a whole.
"Then they could have the potential to run on ground and get stuck, which would be catastrophic for them and close down the harbor for a while," says Schmidt.
The Army Corps of Engineers has already tested harbors in Saugatuck, South Haven, and New Buffalo. Officials say New Buffalo had the worst sand build-up, in part because of high waves from Hurricane Sandy.
Dredging is expected to begin later this month.