How Wet Was 2019?

Like really, really wet!  Wet enough to bring flooding, bank full streams, and high water even to some lakes badly lowered by high capacity well pumping.   It’s been wet enough that water was lapping at the foundations of some lake homes far from normal shorelines.

This extraordinary situation is partly triggered by extreme events – remember the two inches of March 2019 rain that fell on deep, melting snow?  But more to blame is just a consistent excess of precipitation.  2019 finished with a record 43.4 inches at Hancock, 12 inches above average, and second-to-the-record 45.4 inches at Stevens Point, 13 inches above average.

Underwater picnic tables and offshore pines at Portage County’s Sunset Lake Park.

Multi-year precipitation has also been enormous

Wet and dry spells that extend over multiple years are more significant than single dry or wet seasons.  Not only was 2019 wet, but the past 5 and 10 year periods have been the wettest on record.  All years since 2013 have been wetter than average.  And not by just a little – we’ve received way over an extra year’s precipitation during 2014-2019.

YearStevens PointHancock
20144.2 in0.6 in
Above-average precipitation amounts for 2014-2019 at Stevens Point and Hancock, when a whole extra years’ worth of rain fell.

Groundwater levels and streamflows have responded

Our groundwater levels, lake levels, and stream flows are controlled by two things – precipitation and pumping.  Precipitation highs and lows drive water levels and flows higher and lower, while pumping lowers the natural highs and lows, especially during dry spells. 

The precipitation excess over the last few years has been raising groundwater levels, sometimes tragically for some lake property owners.  But it has the upside of temporarily masking the low lake and streamflow levels caused by high capacity well pumping, and it depresses irrigation pumping.   

So right now, the Little Plover River is flowing fine.  Long Lake, Plainfield Lake, and others east of Plainfield, Hancock, and Coloma have not only had their water levels restored, are downright high.

Where from here?

The million dollar question is, “when will things return to normal?” 

Who knows? 

It seems unlikely that precipitation can stay above average forever.  Historically, after a comparable wet period in the 1940s, Central Wisconsin fell into a vicious dry period that persisted two decades!  Hopefully we won’t see such a catastrophe.  But odds are we’ll eventually get into a more regular typical precipitation pattern, and when we do high capacity well pumping will once again substantially affect Long, Wolf, and the Plainfield – Hanock – Coloma Lakes, as well as the Little Plover River and other susceptible streams and wetlands.

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