Lake Michigan water levels now at lowest level ever recorded

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Lake Michigan water levels are now at the lowest ever recorded, and it could get worse. This is not just a problem for Milwaukee-area beaches, but for shipping companies as well.

A ship carrying coal through the icy water of Lake Michigan is a sight often seen in the Port of Milwaukee -- and it took a great deal of problem solving to make sure the ship arrived.

Tom Balistreri's company, Midwest Maritime is responsible for shipping the coal. Balistreri says low water levels have become a concern. He pays attention to weather patterns and also must pack less cargo or fuel to make the ship lighter in the water.

"May put another ship in that trade because we have a commitment with that customer to haul x-amount of tons per year. So it's up to us with the fleet of boats we have to fulfill that contract," Balistreri said.

Harvey Bootsma is an associate professor at UW-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences. He also says the drought has meant less rain and snowfall, but the warmer temperatures have also lead to more water evaporating from the lake.

"It's kinda a double whammy of less water coming into the lakes and more water leaving the lakes through evaporation," Bootsma said.

Bootsma says it's still unclear whether the record low lake levels are just a natural cycle or due to climate change. However, in the near future, more snow is welcome.

"We're hoping for precipitation like anybody else. Can't send crew members home, can't burn less fuel, we hope to move more ton-age," Balistreri said.