Man-made structure could help raise record-low water levels in Great Lakes: commission
In this Nov. 16, 2012 photo, the white streaks on a steel breakwall show the normal water level on Portage Lake at Onekama, Mich., which is connected by a channel to Lake Michigan. (AP / John Flesher)
A joint Canada-U.S. commission in charge of the Great Lakes is recommending that a new structure be built in the St. Clair River to elevate dwindling water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan by as much as 25 centimetres.
The recommendation, published in recent report from the International Joint Commission, responds to growing concerns raised by residents, cottagers and business owners who say the record-low water levels in the Great Lakes is damaging wetlands and hurting the local economy.
In central Ontario, for example, the start of the seasonal ferry service that runs between Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninusla has been delayed.
“Due to continued low water levels on Lake Huron, the Friday, May 3rd scheduled start to the Chi-Cheemaun ferry season has been postponed until at least Friday, May 10th,” reads a notice on the Owen Sound Transportation Company website.
The low water levels have also forced many cargo ships to carry lighter loads, leaving docks high and dry, and destroying fish-spawning areas of the lakes.
The problem of shrinking water levels is not new, according to Ted Yuzyk, the Joint Commission’s director of science and engineering.
“We’ve had an issue for the last 14 years,” Yuzyk told CTV’s Canada AM on Thursday. He said the problem of the ebbing water levels has been exacerbated by the recent mild winters and warmer than usual summers.
“We did set a new all-time-low record in January for Michigan-Huron. And as you remember last year, it was an extremely hot year -- the hottest on record that’s created a lot of loss of water,” he said.
In the report published in April, the Joint Commission is suggesting the Canadian and American governments look at the possibility of erecting a man-made structure in the St. Clair River that will increase water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron over a 10-year period.
“Although future water levels are uncertain, we cannot ignore the damage from record-low water levels,” Joe Comuzzi, the Canadian chair of the Commission, said in a statement.
In a recent study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it was found water levels in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in January had reached their lowest point since the organization began keeping track in 1918. The lakes were 74 centimetres below their long-term average and had dropped 43 centimetres since January 2012.
The other Great Lakes -- Superior, Erie and Ontario -- were also observed to be below average.
“We’re in an extreme situation,” Keith Kompoltowicz, the watershed hydrology chief for the Corps district office in Detroit, told the Associated Press.
But despite the growing concern, Yuzyk said there are still many hurdles to jump before anything concrete is accomplished.
“Acting now is a bit of challenge because to do anything takes time … you are dealing with two levels of government, two national governments,” he said. “Even if we start now, we’re looking years out before anything is actually fully accomplished.”
Yuzyk said his group believes governments should consider implementing an adaptive management strategy.
“People are going to have to adapt to the low water levels ,” he said. “So the commission is telling the government that adaptive management is a new strategy that the population is going to have to look at in a more serious manner.”
With files from The Associated Press