Plan aims to stabilize Lake Superior water levelsLake Superior won’t be robbed to help boost water levels for Lakes Michigan and Huron, even under a new water-level management plan that goes into effect later this year.
By: John Myersemail@example.com, Superior Telegram
Lake Superior won’t be robbed to help boost water levels for Lakes Michigan and Huron, even under a new water-level management plan that goes into effect later this year.
That was the word Monday from officials of the International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. board that has authority to regulate water levels and resolve water use disputes on the Great Lakes.
The new Lake Superior plan, in the works for more than a year, should be in place later this year, said Ted Yuzyk, director of science and engineering for the Canadian arm of the IJC. But the changes will be subtle and will have little effect on the big lake’s water levels.
“I don’t expect anyone living along the lake shore would notice any difference under the new plan,” said David Fay, an engineering adviser to the IJC.
The Lake Superior plan aims more at stabilizing the lake’s level, as much as humanly possible, during times of very high or low water levels, and at providing more water at key times for the St. Marys River that runs out of the lake to keep stream flow levels at more natural levels to help with sturgeon spawning and other fish habitat issues.
There will be no effort to bolster the current extremely low levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron by taking more water out of Lake Superior — mostly because it wouldn’t work.
“Superior can do little for the middle lakes. You’d need permanent structures (holding water in Lake Huron) to effect that much change,” Fay said.
Superior, Michigan and Huron have been below average for 14 years, the longest such period since 1918, the scientists noted. But there are myriad reasons for those low water levels, from ongoing droughts to climate change to human-caused increases in stream flows below Lake Huron that have allowed more water to leave the lake faster. (Because they are downstream, the levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron can have no impact on Lake Superior, except as structures at Lake Superior’s outlet might be changed to affect the downstream lakes.)
The IJC report said major changes, like new dams to raise lake levels, would cost the governments of Canada and the U.S. billions of dollars. They instead suggested smaller changes, such as weirs, dykes and gates in the St. Clair River, to slow the flow out of Lake Huron.
While the IJC can change water level management using existing structures without government approval, the body has no authority or money to build anything. In the plan released Monday, it is suggesting the efforts to both governments.
The report also suggests the two governments conduct yet another study of the water-level issue before spending any money.
No matter what is done, however, the IJC report says water levels will continue to be lower in the future than the long-term average because of climate change.
“The science is very clear on that. There’s a general lowering of the Great Lakes water levels” due to increased evaporation from fewer months of ice cover and warmer temperatures spurred by long-term climate change, Yuzyk said. Climate change also has altered precipitation patterns markedly, causing lower overall rain and snow levels for the middle Great Lakes.
The U.S. chairwoman of the six-member IJC, Lana Pollack, chose not to sign the report in protest because, she said, it doesn’t put enough emphasis on the impacts of climate change. She also cautioned against raising “false hopes that structures in the St. Clair River, if built, would be sufficient to resolve the suffering from low water levels of Lake Michigan-Huron, while at the same time causing possible disruption downstream in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.”
The lower lake levels have caused problems in some areas, especially shipping channels, forcing freighters to carry lighter loads. In some areas of Lakes Huron and Michigan, recreational boating harbors and launches have been rendered unusable because the water has dropped so much. Elected officials from the Great Lakes region have called for more government-sponsored dredging to keep shipping channels clear.
Lake Superior sits about a foot below the long-term normal while Lakes Michigan and Huron are still nearly 2 feet below normal, despite increased rainfall in that region in recent months.