Higgins Lake - Save the dam

Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 By Brad Wardell In Politics

Sometimes the local politics of Higgins Lake Michigan can be very frustrating.  The latest example has to be the "save the dam" advocates.

Briefly, MSU in cooperation with the DNR are conducting a study of the effect the dam has on Higgins Lake. The dam is used to help control the lake water level.

Many decades ago, a dam was put on the lake to keep the water level high enough to use the lake effectively for for boats. As more people bought cottages on the lake, the demand to raise the water level ever higher grew.

The issue came to a head some years ago when the water level got so high that huge swaths of the shore, complete with their trees, began falling into the lake. Many people began to build sea walls or fortified their shorelines with stones which resulted in the erosion problem being exacerbated for everyone else.

To put things in perspective, our family has been on the lake for decades. We've lost nearly 40 feet of beach since the 1940s. Moreover, the erosion of the sea shore resulted in a massive increase in the amount of organic matter in the lake which caused an explosion in the number of snails in the lake which in turn helped bring "Swimmer's Itch" to the lake for the first time in its history.

As a result of all the erosion and the corresponding hassles it entails, people have begun to ask "what should the water level be?" One of the local foundations raised sufficient funds to get that question answered scientifically -- the creation of a study. The study will take a couple years to complete.

However, the study is violently opposed by those who fear that this will lead to the loss of the dam and convenient (for them) access to their boats. No one has actually seriously proposed getting rid of the dam. Personally, I do not want to see the dam go.  I boat on this lake as well and if the water level was significantly lower than it is today, it would be quite a hassle to navigate the lake.

The problem is, no one really knows what lower lake levels would do. We can only speculate. Hence, the study: The study is the result of years of squabbling by the residents up there as to what the lake level should be kept at.  Now, at least, there would be a study that outlines what the consequences of different water levels would be.

What's funny about this, at least from an "outsider", "city-slicker", point of view, is that those who are so up in arms about this are ultimately concerned about the ease of getting their boats out into the lake and having to be more careful in navigating certain areas. They don't seem to be aware that the north east shore of the lake is disappearing (high water + winds from the south west year after year).  It's enough to make someone want to yell "Lazy hicks!" at those who put their convenience over someone else's property.

Every time I've seen this issue debated, it ultimately boils down to convenience -- for them. Never mind that other people are seeing their shores, trees, decks, porches, washed away or that all the organic material being washed into the lake is damaging the lake quality. No, it's about their bloody pontoon boats.

I don't have an opinion on what the lake level should be. If I were the weather god, I'd prefer much lower winter and spring levels and keep the current summer levels.  It's the Spring storms that are destroying us.

I do know, however, that if one party is losing their trees and patios to the enriching water caused by an artificially high lake level and the other party just doesn't want to have to buy another 8 foot dock section or have to pay attention to rocks which party's concerns are valid and which party's concerns are unreasonable imo.