Study confirms decline in Great Lakes levels


OTTAWA — Water levels in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have dropped by 80 centimetres since the 1800s — and will continue to drop with major environmental costs unless remedial action is taken, says a study released today. "Georgian Bay wetlands are the most ecologically diverse, significant and pristine found anywhere on the Great Lakes," she said in a teleconference today.

People living around the Great Lakes have seen the unpleasant results of low water levels in the last decade, said Tim Eder of the U.S. National Wildlife Association. Water levels of the "middle" Great Lakes have declined because of dredging, gravel-mining and shoreline alteration over the last 140 years, says the report commissioned by the Georgian Bay Association, a citizens group.

Activists are calling for a moratorium on further dredging, research aimed at finding corrective measures and firm rejection of proposals to expand the St. Lawrence canal to accommodate larger ships. "Without implementation of compensation measures, this drop represents an irreversible decline in the long-term average lake level," says the study.

"This is very significant with potentially extensive socio-economic and environmental implications." Mary Muter of the association, which raised $200,000 to pay for the study, said wetlands around the area are drying up with devastating effects for wildlife.

The study attributes the continuing decline in water levels to erosion in the St. Clair River, at the bottom of Lake Huron. The river is compared to the drain of a bath tub — when the drain is larger, the water drains faster. Ironically, one factor in the deepening of the St. Clair is shoreline protection built by property owners upstream to prevent erosion of their waterfronts.

This reduces the supply of sand that is carried to the river and that would help keep it shallow. "Low water levels are serious problem for people and wildlife. When water levels go down, impacts include shorelines that dry up and expose mud flats instead of beach fronts.

"Ships must carry lighter loads. Recreational boaters found that docks . . . were high and dry. Countless boaters ran aground."

The International Joint Commission which manages Canada-U.S. boundary waters is studying the report, said a spokesman.

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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