Great Lakes water levels predicted to decline, Emergency Operations Center continues to provide technical assistance along Lake Michigan shoreline

Published Aug. 5, 2020

By Vanessa Villarreal, USACE Chicago District, Public Affairs Office

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that each of the Great Lakes, except Lake Superior, have likely reached their peak water levels for the year and are predicted to decline.

Lake Michigan set another new monthly mean record-high water level in July, however the water level is expected to slowly drop the rest of the year. The Corps most recent forecast projects that Lake Michigan will likely set another new record-high monthly mean water level next month in August before dropping back beneath record highs in September. Lake Michigan is forecasted to drop two inches over the next month.

Since July 8, 2019, due to high lake levels, the Chicago District’s Emergency Operations Center has been activated. Between May 18-20, 2020, the Chicago River flooded portions of downtown Chicago because lake levels were higher than the river.

During response operations, Chicago District’s Emergency Management Office can provide technical assistance in the form of engineering advice and recommendations for emergency flood protection, or direct assistance at the request of the state, by providing flood fight materials to state, county, or local public agencies.

Since July 2019, there have been over 50 technical assistance site visit requests completed to date. During this time, public meetings with local and state representatives took place to inform the public of the lake levels; approximately 1,000,000 sandbags have been staged throughout the district’s area of responsibility to prepare for flood events; roadshows were done in lakeside counties to inform stakeholders and partner agencies of Corps authorities and current lake level forecasts; and emergency permitting was done through the Corps’ Regulatory Branch for lakeshore property owners to place riprap and protective measures along the shoreline.

In August and November 2019, the USACE Chicago District flood team met with members of the Chicago Park District and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to conduct technical site vists to over 20 sites along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago. With the Corps’ technical advice and recommendations, the Park District and CDOT applied for emergency permitting through our Regulatory Branch to place riprap along some of the Chicago beaches to prevent erosion, and also placed jersy barriers along the roadways to break wave action and prevent overtopping of lake water onto the streets. Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management was also notified of the potential for flooding along the shoreline due to storm wind and wave action. Throughout 2020, Chicago District flood teams have continued to work with communities in the state of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to provide technical assistance along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

In addition, citizens may decide to work on personal construction projects to alleviate erosion or flooding, which could potentially impact the nation’s rivers, streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources. These projects may require a permit from the USACE, Regulatory Office. For information on the permit process, visit

The USACE Chicago District is responsible for some navigation structures in Lake Michigan to include jetties, breakwaters, and other such structures. With record high water levels, some portions of these structures (outer edges) are now submerged, although the crown (highest point) remains visible. We encourage boaters to exercise extreme caution and maintain situational awareness when traversing the harbors.

For more information about Great Lakes high water levels, visit:

Vanessa Villarreal
(312) 846-5331

Release no. 20-016