Residents, officials concerned about future flooding after record lake levels

ST. CLAIR COUNTY (WJRT) (12/15/2019) - High water levels on the Great Lakes in December are causing county residents and officials to be concerned about future flooding.

"The past few years we have spent most of our summers instead of enjoying the river, fearing it," Debra Roshak, who vacations on the St. Clair River, said.

Roshak's family has owned a cottage on the river near St. Clair since the early 1900s. She said that this year alone they have had to triple the amount of sandbags they have in place to fend of the rising water.

Roshak said she has never seen the water on the river so high.

"This is the highest I've ever seen it," she said. "I do remember when years ago we were able to have bonfires on the beach and now you can't even touch when you go in."

Rohak and many others who call that area home are worried about what high water levels at this point in the season could mean moving forward in the winter and spring.

Justin Westmiller, the emergency manager for St. Clair County, said this month's water levels are already above what was seen in 2018 and that it could lead to even more flooding in 2020.

"That's going to be potentially devastating for the southern parts of St. Clair County," he said.

Westmiller said officials are getting the word out on what could happen next year.

"It was hard [last year] on people so what we are trying to do is make sure that everyone knows this is going to be a repeat here in 2020 and to be ready for that," he said.

Westmiller urges anyone who lives on the water to have emergency plans in place and to purchase flood insurance now before it's too late.

Adding to the trouble, is the potential for ice jams this winter on the St. Clair River.

"Definitely a damage concern and flooding concern," Westmiller said.

Westmiller's office is working closely with state and federal agencies to make sure plans are in place this winter to combat ice but he said there is no simple fix.

"When you break ice, you make ice," he said. "There is no perfect fix to this problem."

As for residents living along the water's edge, they hope preparing for flooding is not going to become a part of their every day life.

"It hasn't been part of owning land on the water, at least in my lifetime until this year," Roshak added. "I'm hopeful we will see a turn."