High water summit identifies resources, needs in response to growing statewide issue
State, federal, and local officials pledged Monday at the first Michigan High Water Coordinating Summit to collaborate closely and share resources in responding to public health and safety challenges created by Michigan’s near-record high water levels.
Participants in today’s summit — convened by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — agreed to form an ad hoc Michigan High Water Action Team. The multi-agency consortium will collaborate to:
• Identify available assets that can be marshalled in response to high water incidents.
• Coordinate communications across agencies and levels of government to ensure residents receive information in a timely, accurate, and consistent fashion.
Town hall meetings are to be scheduled around the state this spring to inform residents about the impacts of high water levels and the state government’s response. Details on these events will be available in the coming weeks.
“I called for the Michigan High Water Coordinating Summit to ensure our state agencies lead the way with a highly coordinated and cooperative response to high water impacts," Whitmer said. "With our local and federal partners, our team will do everything we can with the resources at our disposal to help Michigan families and communities living through extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”
Michigan’s water levels are at their highest in more than two decades. If levels rise an additional 12 inches or more this spring, as models predict, Spring 2020 levels could break 120-year historic records. Throughout Michigan, these exceptionally high water levels have caused millions of dollars in damage to private property and public infrastructure, including roads and Michigan State Parks. Water levels are also impacting community water systems and causing other public health concerns.
“High water levels affect every corner of the state, from Great Lakes shorelines to inland lakes to rivers and canals,” said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “We heard today that there is no short-term end in sight, which means homeowners and communities will be feeling the impacts for quite some time. The Michigan High Water Action Team will make sure we continue to have robust discussions at all levels of government to help all Michiganders.”
During the all-day summit at Lansing Community College’s West Campus, participants reviewed the latest National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water level predictions; discussed ongoing and potential impacts from flooding, erosion, and high water tables; and inventoried government authorities and resources available for incidence response.
“Increasing high water levels are certainly a concern for Michigan’s food and agriculture industry who were already severely impacted by a wet spring and summer in 2019. Well over 920,000 acres of Michigan farm fields went unplanted because of historic weather events. And unfortunately, the weather forecast doesn’t appear to be any better for our farming community in 2020,” said Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). “This Summit provided the opportunity to share information, expertise and the necessary resources to ensure our food and ag businesses are able to thrive – even in the face of adverse weather. I am looking forward to getting more details at the MDARD-hosted 2020 Crop Outlook meeting with the United States Department of Agriculture and commodity executives on March 11 to address these unpredictable challenges in our food and ag industry.”
“We are committed to continuing our partnership with Michigan’s local emergency managers and our other state agencies to find solutions to address the shoreline erosion issue,” said Insp. James Grady, assistant commander of the Michigan State Police (MSP), Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. “It’s through this collaboration that we can assess the real and potential risk erosion is posing to our communities.”
“Michigan Department of Transportation leaders put a high priority on building for resiliency, meaning planning for flooding and other effects of our volatile climate,” said MDOT Director Paul C. Ajegba. “High water on the Great Lakes and myriad inland lakes and rivers has severely damaged roads and bridges at a time when we are already challenged for funds to sustain the transportation network.”
State departments and agencies participating in the Michigan High Water Coordinating Summit included the Office of the Governor; EGLE; MDARD; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Natural Resources; Department of Technology, Management and Budget; MDOT; Department of Treasury; Michigan Economic Development Corporation; Michigan Public Service Commission; and MSP.
Federal agencies in attendance included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / NWS, and USACE.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community also participated.
Groups representing local units of government included the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners, Michigan Association for Local Public Health, Michigan Association of Planning, Michigan County Road Association, Michigan Emergency Managers Association, Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Townships Association.