The water is at near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. Cargo freighters have been forced to lighten loads, marinas have become too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds are sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.
Congress used to provide money to dredge channels and repair other infrastructure for small communities. But those special appropriations called "earmarks" have fallen out of favor.
That leaves small towns scrambling to find ways to attract recreational traffic such as fishing charters, sailing yachts and motorboats.