What caused summer flooding on Belle Isle? Humans or nature?

October 03, 2019, 7:31 AM

Summer visitors to Belle Isle this year know how high the water was. It inundated the interior of the island park's east end, covering and damaging roads, cancelling planned events and otherwise inconveniencing visitors. 

One wet park this year. (Photo: Michael Lucido)

That the flooding was connected to an infrastructure project designed to improve flow through the island's man-made water features is not in question. Whether those projects actually caused it is in dispute. 

The Free Press reports on the debate over whether the Lake Okanoka project, which opened the Detroit River, was the primary culprit in the flooding, or whether the inundation was inevitable in a record high-water year on the Great Lakes. 

The Freep's Keith Matheny writes:

At a minimum, the optics were terrible: Mere days after an ongoing, $5 million fish habitat project on Belle Isle opened the interior of the island to water from the Detroit River in April, the rains came. And mostly didn't stop.

The state park was besieged by flooding all spring and summer, causing scores of canceled events, unusable island roads, and street and other damage.

It has led some to question whether the State of Michigan is now spending tens of thousands of dollars to pump water off Belle Isle that the federal government just spent $5 million to bring in.

A spokesman for the nonprofit Friends of the Detroit River called it "coincidental," and defended the project, which involved dredging Lake Okanoka, a new channel between it and the Blue Heron Lagoon, and a new, higher bridge to allow paddlers to pass through the island's interior waterways. 

Others said the flooding was so closely tied to the opening of those bodies of water that the cause and effect is obvious. 

"Anybody who knows the Great Lakes should know there is a cycle of high and low water," said (Michael)  Betzold, a Free Press reporter in the 1990s who has written about the flooding on Belle Isle this summer (for Deadline Detroit). 

While the Great Lakes have been high in recent years, the spring inundation caused 100-year flooding all through the basin. 

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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By: Michael Lucido