Managing High Water Impacts on Inland Lakes: Part One – Private Well & Septic Systems

The National Weather Service says we are in one of Michigan’s wettest periods in modern history. We see it in the record breaking high water in the Great Lakes and the shocking impacts of shoreline erosion. But what does all this water mean to Michigan’s inland lakes and streams?

In this Special COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Edition of Nature Change videos, we explore the potential impacts of rising surface water and groundwater on lakefront properties in Northern Michigan.

A regional manager with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Kyle Alexander describes some of the damage record-high water levels are doing to private property, shoreline structures and roads. These problems are found everywhere across the state.

John Stephenson
Kyle Alexander

The high water also contributes to a surprising amount of storm damage, according to John Stephenson. The owner-operator of a dock equipment installation and maintenance business (Recreational Services, Inc.), Stephenson says the water levels and resulting damage are greater than he’s ever seen.

Dan Thorell is the Environmental Health Director for the Grand Traverse County Health Department which regulates the installation and repair of private wells and septic systems. Thorell says that rising lake levels have inundated the yards of some lake front property owners, posing real threats to the functioning and safety of on-site wastewater disposal systems (septic systems) and private drinking water wells.

If surface water surrounds a drinking water well, Thorell recommends that the water be tested for contaminants regularly. If the surface water rises above the top of a private well, that well water should not be consumed at all.

Dave Dempsey
Dan Thorell

Dave Dempsey says property owners need to be alert to the potential damage being caused by high surface water and groundwater levels to their septic systems too. Dempsey is an award-winning environmental writer and senior advisor for the Traverse City-based nonprofit, FLOW – For Love of Water.

Like the roof on a home, each septic system should be inspected and maintained at some frequency, Dempsey says, particularly in a time of high water levels. Further,  FLOW recommends local and statewide programs that provide for the regular inspection of septic systems to help assure that human wastes are properly treated before being released into Michigan’s lakes and streams.


For additional information on how to respond to manage private septic systems, please check out the information published by EGLE, just click HERE. There is also a fact sheet about protecting private wells in an emergency available, just click HERE.

Nature Change extends a big “Thank You!’ to Thomas Schrumpf (YouTube: adventureswithtcs316) and Cody Kreiger (Kreeeg Media) for the drone video clips.

Thanks also to FLOW – For Love of Water and Jody Marquis for helping to sponsor this video production.

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