Researchers to Probe Decline in Great
Lakes Water Levels
Canada and the United States are launching a
$17.5 million study to determine why water levels in the upper Great Lakes
have declined to near-record lows.
The study by the International Joint commission will consider a number of
possible causes, from climate change to erosion caused by dredging in the
St. Clair River.
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose announced $500,000 for the study last
week. But officials say that is just the first installment in what will be a
major, five-year research effort.
Ambrose noted that water levels in Georgian Bay together with Lakes Huron
and Michigan were as much as 45 centimeters below average this summer.
“Clearly, the health of this ecosystem has global significance,” she told as
news conference at Parry Sound. “Change is already upon us.”
Huron and Michigan are at their lowest levels since the 1960s and Lake
Superior is at its lowest since 1926, reports the Canadian Hydrology Service
at Burlington, Ont.
The decline has caused problems for navigation, recreation, power generation
and the ecology of the area. Wetlands are drying up, docks are stranded and
beaches in some areas are overgrown with weeds.
“People that have lived along the shoreline and thought they have a
million-dollar property no longer do, because instead of having a nice beach
or a nice rocky shoreline in front, they’ve got muck with bulrushes growing
in it,” said Mary Muter of the Georgian Bay Association.
Citing a study by Blair Associates of Oakville, Muter said the Lake
Huron-Michigan water level decreased by 2.4 cm between 2000 and 2005, which
she described as a major drop.
“If you converted half a centimeter into volume of water you’d be talking
millions of gallons of water.”
Yet the lower lakes, Ontario and Erie, are at or slightly above normal
levels, which has scientists baffled. Normally, water levels throughout the
lakes would rise and fall more or less in tandem.
Computer models simulating climate change predict that water levels will
decline throughout the Great Lakes, but don’t explain why the upper lakes
would be affected more than the others.
“The real thing that’s got everybody concerned is not only are Lake Michigan
and Huron dropping, but they’re dropping relative to Erie,” said Frank
Quinn, a hydrology consultant at Tecumseh, N.Y.
“The lakes have been low in the past, but the graphs show that all of a
sudden starting probably in the late 1980s or early 1990s there came a major
difference in the water levels.
“If it was just generally low lake levels you would expect to find the same
problem on Erie and Huron.”
One possible explanation is that global warming has changed rainfall
patterns, said Ralph Moulton at the Canadian Hydrographic Service.
Reprinted from The Canadian Press.
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