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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Lake Michigan water levels approaching record lows


CHICAGO - For a couple of days last week, Lake Michigan dropped beneath its record monthly low, heightening concerns about lower water levels in the Great Lakes.

The readings lasted only a few days and do not amount to a new record, which can only be set by monthly averages, but forecasts suggest it could be official by the end of January if expected rains and snowfall do not deliver.

"This is the closest we've been to the record low line in a while," said Cynthia Sellinger, deputy director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. "Lake Michigan has been dropping continuously since 1997, and it's finally approaching the record lows."

After briefly dropping below its record monthly low of 576 feet above sea level (set in March, 1964) Lake Michigan water levels recovered slightly to start 2008 at 576.3 feet. But the water is still 13 inches below where it was a year ago and more than two feet below the normal average for December.

This could be the year Lake Michigan sets a new record, lakes researchers say.

Given the annual ebb and flow of lake levels, the year's lowest waters are not expected until just before spring.

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