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Lake Superior's quick rise forces officials to open eastern gates

The Federal St. Laurent sits at anchor in Lake Superior in 2012 waiting to load grain as another ship approaches in the distance. The lake's quick rise this spring has ended years of concerns over low levels. (File / News Tribune)

Lake Superior has risen to above-normal water levels so fast that an emergency order was announced Tuesday to open more gates and release more water from the lake to avoid flooding.

Just a year after concerns that the lake’s level was too low, now officials say it is too high.

The International Lake Superior Board of Control said Tuesday it was fully opening seven gates where the lake ends and the St. Marys’ River begins, up from five gates.

That extra water pouring out of the big lake could create unsafe conditions of fast water in the river, and the board warned boaters and anglers on the river to be aware of rising water.

The board took action after heavy May and June rainfall in the Lake Superior basin pushed the lake up unusually fast. The lake now sits 6.3 inches above normal for this time in June. Lakes Huron and Michigan are way up from recent low water periods as well, but they are still 5.5 inches below the long-term average and thus can handle the extra water from Superior.

“To reduce the risk of extremely high water levels on Lake Superior, and to minimize adverse effects of lower water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron, it is necessary to act now by increasing flow” through the gates at the east end of the lake, the board said in its notice released Tuesday. “Should wet conditions prevail, it may prove necessary to further increase the gate opening settings later this summer.”

Lake Superior is more than 14 inches above the level at this time in 2013 and was at its highest May level since 1997, ending more than a decade of concern over lower-than-normal water levels.

Lakes Huron and Michigan are continuing an even more remarkable comeback, from nearly 3 feet below normal and record low levels in recent years to just 5.5 inches below normal now. The lakes hit their all-time lowest mark in January 2013. The lakes rose 6 inches during May, double their usual 3 inches, and now sit more than 14 inches higher than the June 1 level in 2013.