October 24, 2012 - As anyone with a view of Lake Orion knows, the water is looking pretty shallow lately.
This is due to an intentional lake lowering, orchestrated by Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality and the Village of Lake Orion to inspect and repair seawalls, the dam and other amenities that require the water to be down.
The lake is lowered every five years and has been since the 1940's for lakeside residents to repair their seawalls, but some waterfront homeowners now say the lowering is no longer necessary.
Moreover, they say the lake lowering is actually detrimental.
"The damage it causes is a big reason we want the lowerings to stop," said Park Island resident Sam Serra. "I had cracks form in stamped concrete behind my seawall that were not there a few months ago. The reason for this is a lack of hydro static water pressure. When the water is (high) it pushes against the wall, but when it goes down and it's only up a foot, it's a lot less pressure than if it's at the top of the wall.
"The water table continues back into our properties, so when you pull the water away, it reduces the pressure. When that happens something has to give and it's the land that pushes back."
The claim is that the water needs to be pushing back against seawalls and other man-made structures to keep the land from pushing out against the water. When the water recedes, the land may push seawalls out to the point where they could crack and fracture.
In Serra's case, a porch built up to the water is beginning to split and crack.
To those that want the lowering ended, this is frustrating because they claim modern technology has made it possible to install and repair seawall and other waterborne devices without lowering the lake. Residents are also upset because of the reduced time available to spend boating.
"You can just drive the planks into the ground and it doesn't make a difference if the water is there or not," said Park Island resident Mike Hadley. "They've been draining the lake since the 40s but the technology has changed. The 15 people that put in permits to repair their seawalls to draw down the lake take hundreds away from the lake. My boat would still be in the water and we pay a lot of money for waterfront property. There is no reason anymore to draw down the lake when you can work while the lake is up."
But Jerry Richards, a charter member and president elect of the Lake Orion Lake Association (LOLA), of which Hadley and Serra are both members, said the lowering should continue for a number of reasons. The lowering has been going for so long he sees it as almost a tradition, but more importantly, Richards said surveys have shown most lakeside residents want the lowering to continue.
"In the past, most people took advantage of the time frame to do repairs on their dock systems, boat houses, seawalls and more because it's easier to do it on dry ground than in a lake," said Richards. "Those people that participated in a survey indicated that the people still support the lake drawdown. The state ties into this to do their inspection of the dam and bridge. They can do it with the lake up but it's more cost efficient for them to do it with the lake down."
But Hadley contends that the surveys are not representative of the true feelings of those on the lake.
"I would question the fact that a majority of people want the drawdown and I think it's an apathetic approach," he said. "They don't ask why the lake is drawn down and LOLA is not a big enough sampling. The people who take the survey don't really look into the questions they're being asked. It's a great lake to be on, but the apathy is rampant. It astounds me."
The survey is open for anyone at lolainfo.org.
Richards continued, adding he understands new technology is available to drive in breakwalls without lowering the lake but said those that want to repair a wall, face a different issue. Of the structures available, which include PVC, steel and wood, concrete is reportedly the most difficult to repair with the presence of water.
"Dumping concrete into water only weakens it," said Richards. "If it's sheet pile they can do it with the lake up, but we have a lot of people with the old concrete structures."
Richards added that the main case for those that wish the lowering to stop because of static water pressure have not proven or dis-proven their arguments.
Both sides believe the solution to the problem lies in a public hearing. Richards said the meeting that took place two weeks ago at a regular Village of Lake Orion Council meeting was not sufficient, somewhat due to the small number of township residents compared to village residents.
The lake began lowering on Sept. 10 and will begin to fill again on Oct. 29.