Straight from the Tap

Historic Lake Levels Could Supply Almost 50 Years of Tap Water


In Lake Erie’s recorded history, we’ve never seen water levels this high.

In May, Lake Erie hit its highest monthly average water level since 1918, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began keeping track, at 574.3 feet above sea level.

That’s 2.42 feet higher than the long-term average of 572.01 feet and 0.25 feet higher than the previous record of 574.05 feet set in June 1986. It’s also a foot higher than last year’s average. And so far, June’s water levels have been even higher than May’s with water levels topping 574.5 feet and more rain in the forecast.

Cleveland Water has been tracking Lake Erie water levels, temperature, and quality since 1856 when we began pumping water from 300 feet offshore and 1 mile west of the mouth of the Cuyahoga River.

With a surface area spanning 9,910 square miles, Lake Erie is holding about 5 trillion more gallons of water than it would have if water levels were just “average” and 1.13 trillion gallons of water more than it did last year.

To put this amount of water in perspective, Cleveland Water can treat up to 300 million gallons of water per day (109.5 billion gallons/year) to deliver to our 1.4 million customers. At that rate, it would take nearly 50 years to treat just the lake water that is above the average elevation.

Our intake and treatment does not impact Lake Erie water levels. International agreements require nearly all the water pulled out of Lake Erie by public water systems be returned to the lake after being made clean by sewage treatment systems.

However, the lake’s higher elevation will save us some money on our electric bill. For every foot higher than average, about $32,000 per year is saved in electricity costs from pumping water. However, Lake Erie is known for having every-fluctuating water levels and when they swing lower than average, electric costs go up by the same amounts.

To see if June 2019 will be one for the water level record books, you can check the USACE’s daily updates here. Meanwhile, the quality of water flowing out of your tap won’t change.