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Lake Level 1954 Lake Level Study | Realtime Lake Level Graphs

Aquatic Plant Control

The maintenance of Houghton Lake’s level has long been controversial. During periods of high water, low-lying properties around the lake have the potential to be flooded; during periods of low water, navigating portions of the lake can be difficult.

A legal lake level for Houghton Lake was first set by the Roscommon County Circuit Court in 1926. At that time, the lake level was controlled by a timber dam located on the Muskegon River about three-fourths of a mile downstream of Houghton Lake. This dam did not have sufficient spillway capacity and periodic high and low water levels were experienced on the lake. The county authorized construction of a new concrete dam in 1938 in close proximity to the old dam. However, on the advice of the contractor, the spillway of the new dam was constructed shorter than the length recommended by state engineers. An engineering study of the dam completed in 1954 by the Michigan Department of Conservation found that the dam and outlet channel could greatly restrict outflow from the lake. At that time, it was recommended that the dam be enlarged and that the outlet channel be deepened and widened. These recommendations were never implemented.

Dam History

In the Department of Conservation report it was noted that: Observations during past years indicate that considerable development has taken place around Houghton Lake and that low marshy areas, previously considered undesirable, have been developed into lots and sold. Large marsh areas were developed and very shallow fills placed over these areas to prepare cottage sites for sale. As the years have gone by, the recreational public has observed Houghton Lake during the latter part of summer and purchased lots when lake levels were low. After construction of cottages on these lots, at elevations very little above the ground surface, trouble developed from high water levels flooding out the land immediately around the cottages themselves.

Houghton Lake Dam Today

Flooding of low-lying properties occurred often during the period of spring ice break-up. To address this problem, the Roscommon Board of Commissioners petitioned the Roscommon County Circuit Court to establish a winter level for Houghton Lake. In 1982, the circuit court ordered that the legal lake level of Houghton Lake previously established at 1138.1 feet above mean sea level be maintained, provided that the level be lowered to not less than 1137.6 feet on or about November 1 of each year. The lake is then restored to its summer level commencing on or about April 15 or ice-out, whichever occurs first in any given year.

Houghton Lake Dam Today

Thus, in recent times, an attempt has been made to maintain both a summer and a winter level on Houghton Lake. To the extent that the winter lake level can be maintained, some storage capacity exists in Houghton Lake to accommodate the spring surge in level without causing flooding. However, given the operational limitations of the Houghton Lake dam, it is not always possible to maintain the desired lake levels. At times, the level of the lake is significantly higher than the court-ordered levels, even with the gates in the dam fully open. Thus, it is important that the dam always be operated in a manner that prevents excess storage of water above the court-ordered winter and summer lake levels.

Pursuant to court order, maintenance of the legal lake levels on Houghton Lake is the responsibility of the Roscommon County Board of Commissioners.