A chunk of rock by the lakefront path near Hamilton Street.

Evanston officials are keeping a close eye on rising water levels that have nearly submerged some beaches and caused damage in some places to the protective rock wall, a City official told Eighth Ward residents at a Jan. 28 Ward meeting.
City Engineer Lara Biggs noted that Lake Michigan was at its near record low level in 2013, “but now it’s at its near-record high,” she said in her presentation at the Levy Center, 300 Dodge Ave.

“The rate is a very cyclical thing and that happens,” she explained, “although it usually takes longer than six years to go from low to high.”

What is certain, though, “is we are experiencing a lot of issues related to that,” she said.

“During the year the lake undergoes a normal variation in height anyway, much as when it goes from its all-time low to its all-time high,” she said. “But what we usually see is that the lake is at a low point during the winter in January, February and March, and then, with all the winter precipitation and the spring runoff, we see it come to a high point around June and July.
“This year, however, because of all the precipitation we had last year, the lake was at its near high in June and July of last year.

“It has gone down a little, but not a lot,” she stressed. “And so what we’re seeing is while the lake is at a very high level, we are also getting the crazy storms … extreme weather where lake waves are splashing up over the rocks.”
City staff began seeing last summer that the rock wall, the riprap, that runs along the lake was “actually starting to shift and move,” in some places, she said.

Officials then reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she said, “and we actually walked the lake shore, not all of it, but a big portion of the public area with them.”

The Corps provided the City with an assessment, noting certain problem areas.

“That is helpful in identifying that we actually do have a problem and need to address,” Ms. Biggs said.

Officials then reached out to a company that had done some previous coastal engineering for the City, including the Church Street boat ramp, as well as work with Chicago, which is experiencing similar issues.
Officials are anticipating that they will be able to do some temporary repairs this summer, “in order to sort of bandage the problem,” Ms. Biggs said. “We are not going to be able to stop Mother Nature and somehow magically make the entire rock wall two feet higher,” she told residents.

“We, however, can try to preserve it in the condition it is to provide the most protection we can to the property, and then eventually the lake levels will most likely start dropping again.”

On a brighter note, “I do want to say that the difference in height between the low and the high in Lake Michigan is about six-and-a-half feet,” she told her audience, adding: “So I’m, like, five-feet, two-inches, so if you could imagine like this much,” she said, referring to just above her height, “that’s the difference.”

For now, “when you see the crazy waves, no matter how much fun they are and however exciting, we actually have some concerns that the rock wall is shifting,” she said. For that reason, officials are advising lakefront visitors not to climb the wall for better views.

“Don’t try to participate in Mother Nature’s actions,” Ms. Biggs advised. “Keep a safe distance away.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.