Great Lakes levels swamping yards in Grand Rapids

Rising Waters

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The ripples from record high water levels in the Great Lakes are reaching far inland, soaking basements and swamping backyards in some Grand Rapids neighborhoods.

“It’s been a problem around the city,” said Carrie Rivette, a superintendent at the city’s Environmental Services Department. “I’ve talked to my counterparts across the city and the Midwest and it’s been a problem.”

The high lake levels translate into high river levels and high groundwater levels, she said.

“A record high of Lake Michigan means we’re having record high groundwater levels,” Rivette said. “It’s getting into more basements than we’ve ever seen this year.”

Lakes Michigan and Huron are tied for an all-time high for the month of July, set in 1986, and have risen 2 inches the past month. The other three Great Lakes all remain above the all-time record averages for July.

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In one northeast side neighborhood in Grand Rapids, the sump pumps have developed their own rhythms.

The drain hose from Ley Kroondyk’s basement sump gushes every two minutes or so, dumping water behind her home and forming a pond that’s about a foot deep and stretches across her entire backyard.

“Keeps doing that,” she said as the hose gushed again. “I have a pond over here.”

It’s unlike anything Kroondyk has seen in her 38 years living on Diamond Court NE north of Leonard Street.

She said it will cost her $2,000 to bury a pipe and drain the water.

Two doors down, Kelly Hill’s sump pump is constantly working, also draining into his backyard. He said the water started rising last August. He’s already burned out one sump pump.

Now, the water is seeping into his basement. It has soaked his carpeting and is climbing up his walls. Mold is growing. He said it will cost him several thousand dollars to fix.

grand rapids mold in house
Kelly Hill has mold growing in his home after hgih groundwater levels caused flooding in his basement. (July 23, 2019)

“If the water table is just unusually high, maybe that’s it, but it’s at a 25-year high if it is, because I’ve never had this problem before,” Hill said.

Residents of Diamond Court at first suspected all the water was coming from the city, maybe a leaking nearby water main. But Target 8’s test of the water, working with the Prein & Newhof Laboratory, confirmed it was groundwater. Grand Rapids city officials said their test found the same.

Grand Valley State University Associate Professor Peter Wampler, a geomorphologist, said he’s not surprised by high groundwater levels.

“We’re about 6.5 inches above normal right now (in rainfall),” Wampler said. “That’s a lot of water to push through the ground.”

He said groundwater moves slowly in some parts of Michigan because of all the clay. In normal summers, the clay dries out and cracks, allowing some groundwater to drain.

“But if it stays wet, and it’s exceptionally wet, then those cracks never open. They just stay sealed,” he said.

In the meantime, there’s not much waterlogged residents can do, he said.

“I mean, they just have to get bigger (sump) pumps or wait it out until the cycle changes a bit,” he said.

The city can do little to help.

“There’s only so much we can do as a city and we can’t count on Mother Nature all the time ourselves,” said Rivette, of the Environmental Services Department.

The most recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecast projects Lakes Michigan and Huron to drop an inch by Aug. 19.

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