As Lake Michigan rises, Evanston’s dog beach disappears


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

The Evanston dog beach, located just south of Northwestern, is rapidly losing ground as water levels of Lake Michigan rise. Marty Lyons, assistant city manager, said city officials would present a plan for the beach at next week’s City Council meeting.

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

The water level of Lake Michigan is rising, and Evanston residents — both four-legged and two — are seeing the effects at the dog beach.

The beach, located off Sheridan Road south of Northwestern, did not open as usual on April 1 due to the rising water of Lake Michigan, causing much of the beach to be submerged.

“The dog beach is underwater,” assistant city manager Marty Lyons said. “That’s a Great Lakes problem, not just an Evanston problem.”

The water will likely continue to rise, said Jon Shabica, the vice president of Shabica & Associates, a firm that specializes in coastal science and engineering for the Great Lakes. Shabica gave a presentation at the Human Services Committee meeting Monday, one of many presentations he said he has given recently on the rising lake levels.

“Everybody in the community is kind of raising their hands and going, ‘What happened to the lakefront?’” he said at Monday’s meeting. “We need to recognize that Lake Michigan is a dynamic environment.”

Lake Michigan goes through high and low water-level cycles, Shabica said, and levels reached a low in 2013. Extreme storms on the lake, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, brought more sand to the shorefront and increased beach size, but water levels have “increased dramatically” since then, he said.

Shabica told The Daily the rise could be due to increased wintertime ice coverage, changes in water temperature or evaporation. The speed of the increase is unusual, he said.

“We don’t know enough to be able to pinpoint one exact source,” he told The Daily. “What we can say is that this increase has broken some of the previous records for how fast the lake has gone up.”

There will likely be little damage to property, Shabica told The Daily, as the entirety of Evanston’s shoreline is engineered with steel groins — which create beaches by extending into the lake from the shoreline to catch sand — and large stone barricades that line the coast.

Shabica told the committee that other dangers resulting from a rising lake could include safety issues related to increased water depth at public beaches as well as risks with “submerged hazards,” or anything in the lake such as old docks or boat launches that are now under water.

Although all Evanston beaches are losing ground as a result of the rising levels, the dog beach is taking the biggest hit, Lawrence Hemingway, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service, told The Daily.

“The only issue really was that the water rose at a much faster rate than anyone anticipated,” he said. “Right now all the remaining beaches are on schedule to be open for the season come Memorial Day.”

The city is looking into all possible solutions, Hemingway said, which could include reallocating another space on the lakefront for a new dog beach or creating a permanent dog park at another location, which would likely not be on the water due to limited shoreline.

Lyons said although bringing in sand to rebuild the dog beach at its current location is still on the table, it is not the city’s most preferred option.

City officials are working on a contingency plan for the beach to present before City Council on May 9, Lyons said.

Third Ward resident Betsy Sagan, who said she had recently started to bring her dog Buster regularly to the beach, said she understood why the city would be wary of bringing in more sand, but that she would still like to see a space on the water for dogs.

“It’s a great resource for dog owners and their families, and I hope that there’s a way we can find a beach or a place where dogs can play without their leashes on,” she said.

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Twitter: @noracshelly