Using strategically placed water monitoring equipment and a field team, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is providing technical advice for St. Clair River U.S. and Canadian coast guard ice breaking operations.
The technical advice helps identify areas to focus ice breaking efforts and Corps of Engineers Emergency Management is helping coordinate efforts across local, state and federal governments.
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for southeastern St. Clair County Tuesday. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Bristol Bay and Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Ship Griffon began icebreaking operations near Algonac, Michigan throughout the day Tuesday.
CCG Ship Samuel Risley joined the effort Wednesday and the USCG Neah Bay arrived today. The four vessels are distributed across the system from Port Huron to Lake St. Clair.
“Ice flows and jams can cause significant fluctuations in Lake St. Clair water levels,” said Detroit District Watershed Hydrology Branch Chief Chris Warren, “They also affect water levels and flows in the St. Clair River by restricting flows. Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River often see significant water level impacts which can include flooding, structural damage and river closures.”
Ice jams can form in the St. Clair River when ice from Lake Huron enters the river and flows downstream to the river’s delta near Algonac, Michigan. There it can accumulate and if conditions are right, restricts the river’s flow. Water levels downstream of the restriction decline, while water levels upstream of the restriction rise.
The Corps of Engineers Detroit District is tasked with monitoring and forecasting Great Lakes Water Levels.
“We use several means to monitor the Great Lakes,” Warren said. “We collect and use data across the Great Lakes and their connecting channels from our own water level gages, gages owned by National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and gages owned by the Canadian Hydrographic Service.”
Water level gage data the Corps of Engineers uses is publicly available on the Detroit District’s website at https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/Great-Lakes-Information/
“Although an area may look like it is blocked by an ice jam, it may be a different area that needs targeting by the coast guard,” said Warren. “Having a field team in the area, combined with the water level data helps us provide the best advice.”
During ice jam events the Detroit District’s Hydraulic and Hydrology and Emergency Management sections continuously monitor ice and water levels in the river and maintain constant communication with the coast guard.
“For this event, we’re providing coordination assistance across the federal entities, like the weather service and coast guard, and the state and local governments…cities and St. Clair County” said Detroit District Emergency Management Chief Krystle Walker.
The Detroit District was officially established in 1841, but support for the region can be traced back to 1820 when Corps of Engineers topographer Capt. David Bates Douglass was tasked with mapping Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass’s 4,000-mile Great Lakes exploration.
The Detroit District’s mission is to investigate, plan, design, construct, operate and maintain Congressionally authorized water resource projects that are related to navigation, flood control, beach erosion and other activities. It provides engineering solutions to the Great Lakes’ toughest challenges.
The Corps of Engineers is unable to assist businesses, or private home or property owners. Anyone impacted by flooding should contact local emergency managers or governments.