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Great Lakes water levels
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Author:  Erhard [ September 18th, 2012, 4:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Great Lakes water levels

They are down this year (again) and the Star lists specifics:

According to Environment Canada, Erie is down 22 centimetres over the roughly 100-year average for this time of year and 34 centimetres below last year’s levels for the same time; Lake Ontario, 23 cm. lower than average and 24 from last year; Lakes Michigan- Huron, 63 centimetres below average for this time of year and 24 below last year, and Superior is 34 centimetres below its long-term average for this time of year or two centimetres lower than last year.

Water levels on Lake Huron-Michigan and Lake Superior have been below average for 10 to 12 years, John Nevin, a spokesperson for the International Joint Commission (IJC), told the Star on Monday.

In the article at ... n-roulette

the author bemoans the impact on boating (tell us about it - think 30,000 Islands channels that have disappeared) and talks about the cause:
The reduced water levels are another reminder that recreational boating and commercial shipping are subject to the whims of Mother Nature. A relatively snow free winter across many parts of Ontario, almost unheard of lack of ice cover throughout much of the Great Lakes basin, and an unusually dry summer all contributed to a lack of supply.

Nowhere does it occur to him that there might be a human element involved: every child knows that the water level in a bathtub does not only depend on the inflow from the tap but also how much water you let out at the drain. But in the important matter of Great Lakes shipping and its controlled flow between the lakes and the St.Lawrence, that doesn't get any mention... :doh:

Author:  wotrock [ September 18th, 2012, 8:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Actually, there is little control over the flow. Just 2 points-----the St. Lawrence at the Saunders gen station and St Mary's River at Sault Ste Marie. Saunders can just control Lake O.
St. Mary's can raise Michigan-Huron a bit at the expense of Lake S. levels.

I attended the public info session in Collingwood put on by the special study group commissioned by the IJC. One of the points they made was that Michigan-Huron levels are largely dependent on inflow from the watershed for these 2 lakes minus the evaporation from the lakes themselves. i.e inflow and outflow were secondary influences.

I was out on G. Bay last year and again this year. The level was noticeably lower this year, probably about 20 cm. (Water levels are available online from both Canadian and American gov't websites.). If you accept that global warming is caused by humans, then I suppose we do control the level to some degree.

Author:  Erhard [ September 18th, 2012, 9:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Ok, so that's the official story: the only controls are the outflow of Lake Sup and of Lake Ont.
At least they allow that they are in control of Superior's and Ontario's levels.
That leaves Michigan, Huron/G'Bay, and Erie. Still, I think their story is bull.

I remember reading that the Detroit River has been dredged to give it sufficient depth for the big ships. That increased the flow and thus lowered Michigan and Huron. And Erie needn't be low if the out-flow at Niagara were throttled to match the reduced water volume available.

I think they are pretty arrogant when they say it's all nature. They take for granted the volume of water of the past, and when the climate gives us less water every year, they behave as if they were entitled to the anticipated flow. We think the westerners are pretty reckless by depleting their aquifers especially in the face of diminishing snowpack in the mountains. We are just as dumb by allowing our commerce to keep drawing down the Great Lakes.

Author:  frozentripper [ September 19th, 2012, 9:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Erhard, the news reports on the cause of GL levels may be being suppressed, although this falls into grey conspiracy theory speculation to some extent. Dan Rather's recent resignation from CBS news included some remarks on spinelessness and lack of courage in today's news reporting (don't make waves, if you'll pardon the pun).

Others have made the case that modern journalism depends on the goodwill of megacorporations that own news services and make news reporting possible... so news stories that run counter to corporate interests are suppressed by editors, otherwise pink slips appear. Governments also suppress news by refusing to release information to reporters... our federal dictator in power being a prime example.

It's amazing to me that the Arctic ice cap seems to be disappearing before our eyes and this isn't being covered in the popular news since the implications are far-reaching... Kate's topless photos seem to be drawing much more attention. On the conspiracy side of things, any and all publicity is valuable and royalty will probably benefit in the long run.

Author:  Erhard [ September 19th, 2012, 10:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Al Gore coined the term "Inconvenient Truth" which seems appropriate to the issue at hand.

I understand that vested interests will omit and alter - but am puzzled that folks let themselves befuddle enough to buy the biased total message. I guess we all have a bit of Homer Simpson in us that makes us go with convenience rather than face the real situation and take consequent action....

Author:  Erhard [ September 19th, 2012, 10:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

I just came across the latest report of Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, and he bemoans that the (Ontario) government ministries are hiding info and just ignore the public's right in participation. ... I%20EN.pdf
It's part of a bigger picture that is very disconcerting.
My parent's generation let slip democracy from its hands and ended up starting a war on half the world. My generation allows democracy to slip away as well. But we are attacking our environment - life and resources - and that on an even larger scale.

Pretty bleak future...

Author:  ezwater [ September 19th, 2012, 1:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Let's be practical. I suggest we build a giant dam to flood Detroit and raise Huron and Michigan.

It doesn't seem so long ago that we visited Lake Michigan and high water levels were chewing away beaches and bluffs around New Buffalo. We were back there this summer and low levels were drying out marshes but leaving wide beaches.

But looking past how we are screwing things up, the lakes will slowly diminish, the seas will rise, and developers and realtors will find ways to take advantage of it.

Author:  idylwyld [ September 19th, 2012, 5:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

ezwater wrote:
It doesn't seem so long ago that we visited Lake Michigan and high water levels were chewing away beaches and bluffs around New Buffalo.

At least we're not getting blamed for it anymore (and water withdrawals for the Chicago River). I moved to the lakeshore in Lake Michigan three years ago, and the water has been dropping every year. In 2009, it was at the 9th rivet on the pier near where I live. Today, there is a beach in front of the pier (and the water has dropped some 2 - 3 feet). Residents in my building remember it being up to the breakwater of our building (so it's down some 4 - 5 feet in last 10 years). That's a lot of water.

Wind direction plays a major role in water levels along the shore. During a storm, with a pressure ridge over the lake, we can get a surge of some 2 to 3 feet. It's fun to watch and resembles a very large bathtub that sloshes around … inundating the beach, and then exposing it again. Freshwater is a natural heritage and gift to us in the Great Lakes. We should all be concerned when there is less of it. Water temps were very high this year, and people are currently fishing around 40 - 120 feet (when the fish are usually stacked up on the shore and along the river mouths). And we had no ice on the lake last winter (at least in the southern portion). This plays a role on water levels too, or so it has been reported.

Author:  Erhard [ September 19th, 2012, 5:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Oh well.
And today, the Star added a report by Catherine Porter, dealing with the missing pieces of the earlier report:

The maples on Georgian Bay are already changing. It’s almost time to say goodbye for another year.

Since my parents bought a scrap of land on a big island when I was a baby, I’ve squeezed every possible summer moment into Georgian Bay. To me, it is a magical place of two-toned frogs and bum-up mallards and the damp pages of a book on the dock and another dramatic boating mishap.

Related: Great Lakes water levels mean some boaters ‘playing Russian roulette’

Neither of my parents is handy; I spent many weekends of my childhood like a castaway on a random rocky shoal in the middle of the Bay praying for a saviour after our propeller suffered another aneurism.

I always leave the Bay with a heavy heart. But this fall, it’s going to be extra heavy.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to leave at all.

The past month, that same battered boat hit bottom 15 metres from the dock. I had to push it and pull it and heave all the groceries and fresh laundry and children up front and then push some more.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

When I was a kid, I could dive off the end of that dock. This summer, the water there reached my knees.

We are on year 13 of lower-than-average water levels on Georgian Bay — a record for prolonged low water over the past century. The water has gone down 1.6 metres since its high point in 1997. Most of that is due to the Great Lakes natural cycle between wet and dry spells. But a healthy amount won’t ever come back.

Have you never been to Georgian Bay? You must go. A place of scrubbed granite islands and windswept pines, it’s only 1.5 hours north of the city by car at dawn. (Don’t try it during rush hour unless you’re an aggravation junky.) It’s a large lobe of Lake Huron, which is actually joined by the Straits of Mackinac to Lake Michigan. On a map, they look like two sides of a droopy Prussian mustache.

A few years ago the binational referee of water, the International Joint Commission, confirmed that Lake Huron-Michigan (and therefore Georgian Bay) lost 23 centimetres of water between 1963 to 2006.

The causes, the IJC’s study board concluded, were mostly climate change and the erosion of the St. Clair River, which drains water down toward Lake Erie. That erosion was caused by ice jams, shipwrecks and dredging to let big ships through.

Some 150 years ago, the St. Clair River was only 6 metres deep. Now, it’s 8.2 metres deep. Put a bigger drain in your bathtub and you’d expect to lose water quicker.

The equivalent of a plug — speed bumps at the bottom of the river — was supposed to be put down. But that never happened.

People on the Bay have been fighting for them, or something like them, for years now.

Most of us were hoping the IJC would finally order them.

But, it doesn’t look likely.

(Glacial isostatic adjustment also played a small role in the water loss, the report said. That’s essentially the very gradual reinflation of the Earth’s crust beneath Lake Huron after centuries of being squished under ice.)

I spent a couple days this week chipping though the IJC’s latest, 215-page report on the future of the upper Great Lakes, and it left me distressed, not just for the lake I love, but for all of our lakes.

Let me explain and save you the joyless task of reading the report.

*** ... Report.pdf ***

First, scientists don’t really know what climate change will do to the Great Lakes, the report’s 200-odd experts conclude. They think it will cause more evaporation during warm winters, but also more precipitation. Still, they predict it will double the extremely low water spells to the point of “severe, long-lasting or permanent adverse impacts” in Lake Huron-Michigan.

I phoned Syed Moin, the former manager of the study, to ask what that meant. It means 10 droughts a century instead of the current five, he told me.

His experts looked into restoring 10 to 25 centimetres of water in Lake Huron-Michigan by putting different structures — from underwater sills to turbines — into the St. Clair River. Those structures would also mitigate the low water extremes caused by climate change. They’d cost anywhere from $30 million to $170 million. And while his study group was not asked to make a recommendation, it’s clear from the report they oppose the idea. Sturgeon spawning grounds would be disturbed in the St. Clair River, they point out. But mostly, residents on the American side of the border like their beaches. Even though the report says there is less than an 8 per cent chance of extreme high water levels, they don’t like that chance.

Plus, as Lake Huron’s land is reinflating, Lake Michigan’s is dipping.

“If we make the Georgian Bay side happy, the larger side on the United States side becomes unhappy,” Moin said. “It’s a no-win situation.”

In the end, the report recommends the commission do no further study into regulating all the Great Lakes to avoid extreme water levels in the future. It’s just too expensive, it says, and people won’t want to pay unless it benefits them.

We’ve long been warned that water will be the oil of the next century. And here we are: the water wars have begun.

I’m sad for Georgian Bay — for the frogs and the fish, for the marina owners, who already are facing bankruptcy. I’m sad for my children, who likely won’t grow up there.

But mostly, I’m sad that in the face of the world’s biggest threat — climate change — we can’t come together and work on a communal solution that will protect the weak.

As the victims of Hurricane Katrina learned, if we are in this alone, most of us sink.

The IJC has extended its deadline for comments on its report until Sept. 30. You can email them at or send a letter to 234 Laurier Ave. W., 22nd Floor, Ottawa, ON K1P 6K6.

Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at

There's nothing like personal experience - in this case, a cottage on Georgian Bay - to drive a better analysis of the issue! :thumbup:

But as you read towards the end of the article, there is little hope... :cry:

Author:  frozentripper [ September 21st, 2012, 9:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

In the ECO's report up above, he identifies the Ontario MNR as the most chronic offender in hiding law and policy from public scutiny... citing the new wildlife monitoring program as one of the worst, since the program will not provide information sufficient for adequate environmental assessments.

In the last five years, MNR denied every public request for environmental review. Letters requesting review typically took a long time to be answered, maybe 200 days.

One of the denied requests must have been Algonquin EcoWatch's request to review use of gravel and gravel pits in roadbuilding inside APP, since this represents use of a non-renewable resource, and the gravel removal may affect aquifers, cold groundwater supply to sustain habitat for brook trout (there are about 230 brook trout lakes inside APP, the world's most concentrated collection).

In news reports, critics identify MNR cutbacks and downsizing being responsible for the non-compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights.

Author:  Splake [ September 21st, 2012, 1:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

There was a good article in Ontario Out of Doors in the last year that discussed the drop in Lake Huron water levels. I don't have it in front of me so I can't name specific agencies/sources that were referenced but the good news (at least to me) was that it sounded like there was starting to be significant re-evaluation of how much the dredging of the St. Clair river had increased outflow from Lake Huro and acceptance that it was much higher than originally planned/estimated.

The "good news" in this case is that the dredging appears to account for the drop of several feet in Lake Huron which contrasts sharply with the more typical variations of 8" - 12" in the other Great Lakes.

I am very disappointed in any recommendation not to correct the problem created by increasing outflow through the St. Clair river.

Author:  JCooper [ September 21st, 2012, 5:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

We had a family cottage on Lake Erie from 1949 until the early '90's. In the early '60's the water levels were very low. In the mid '80's there was panic over the high water levels eroding the shoreline.

I have lived on the shore of Lake Superior since 1982. We had record high water levels in 1985. The lake reached a record low for August in 2007. Water levels have been trending higher since 2007.

No ice on the lake last winter plus generally low rainfall around the lake should have produced a low water level but a couple of record high rainfall events in the west end of Lake Superior brought the water level up in June. The water level started to decline in August.

There appears to be a natural weather cycle that affects water levels. Time will tell if the influence of humans exaggerates these weather cycles.

Author:  Audiohio [ September 22nd, 2012, 10:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

The present low water levels on Lake Huron have been experienced before, and were actually slightly lower in 1964. Then the all time high levels were recorded in the 1980's... about 5 feet higher. Memory fades, but the numbers are displayed in the water level charts posted here ... ... n=ShowItem

I think the biggest wild card in all this is long term climate change and the difficulty of predicting how it will affect not only water levels but a whole lot of other things.

Author:  frozentripper [ September 23rd, 2012, 8:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels

Interesting illustration of the isostatic rebound following glacial retreat... the ice edge is shown at the north end of Georgian Bay, about 10,500 years ago, depressing the land surface low enough to create much larger bodies of water in the Georgian Bay area (these have rebounded upwards since, old shorelines are now dry land).


As the ice sheet retreated further north over hundreds of years, the land elevation at the St. Clair river rebounded high enough to cut off flow to Lake Erie altogether, and the Georgian Bay outflow went through the Ottawa river.


Map showing increased elevations due to post-glacial rebound since the ice sheet disappeared... Georgian Bay has risen faster, and over 100m more than the St. Clair river.

Image ... 754ar.html

It's possible to see old cobble beaches along the north shore of Georgian Bay, by walking inland some distance, evidence that the lake level had been higher a short time ago.

Author:  Barbara [ June 6th, 2013, 10:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Great Lakes water levels ... e-solution

Retired geologist says Lake Superior is the solution

During Metroland Media Group’s investigation into the crisis on Georgian Bay, one name came kept coming up. Lifelong Port McNicoll resident and retired geologist, geochemist and engineer, James McCannell is described as an expert on the issue.

Instead of looking south to the St. Clair River to solve low water levels in the Great Lakes, the 97-year-old man turns north to Lake Superior to make his case.

“When you look at northwestern Ontario, it’s at least 50 per cent water (and) if you look at the land area, at least 50 per cent of that is muskeg and can be a few hundred feet deep in some of those areas,” he said.

“There’s a vast amount of water there and no attempt has been made (to utilize it).”

Lake of the Woods and Lake Nipigon are the two largest in the area, added McCannell, noting Lake of the Woods drains through Rainy River into Rainy Lakes, emptying into the Pigeon River, which flows into Lake Superior.

“Those waterways can be deepened and encourage a bigger flow out of Lake of the Woods,” he said.
While it would drop a few feet as a result, there’s a vast amount of water north that could then be redirected back in, he added.

McCannell suggests using forestry and geology students to study the area for two years.

“There are thousands of rivers and streams connecting these lakes. Some you’d have to dam and some deepen but the idea is to get a good flow of water into Lake of the Woods – and deepen the Rainy River Channel into Lake Superior.”

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