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NEWS: Lake Huron, Lake Michigan at lowest water levels ever recorded

The Associated Press reports, “Measurements taken last month show Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have reached their lowest ebb since record keeping began in 1918, and the lakes could set additional records over the next few months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. The lakes were 29 inches (74 centimetres) below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches (43 centimetres) since January 2012. The other Great Lakes – Superior, Erie and Ontario – were also well below average.”

Dredging as a reason for low water levels

“Scientists say lake levels are cyclical and controlled mostly by nature. They began a steep decline in the late 1990s and have usually lagged well below their historical averages since then. But studies have shown that Huron and Michigan fell by 10 to 16 inches (25 to 40 centimetres) because of dredging over the years to deepen the navigational channel in the St. Clair River, most recently in the 1960s. Dredging of the river, which is on the south end of Lake Huron, accelerated the flow of water southward from the two lakes toward Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.”

“The Army corps (has recommended) water-slowing options (including) miniature dams and sills that resemble speed bumps along the river bottom… (But) scientists and engineers convened by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that deals with shared waterways, issued reports in 2009 and last year that did not endorse trying to regulate the Great Lakes by placing structures at choke points such as the St. Clair River. The commission has conducted public hearings and will issue a statement in about a month, spokesman John Nevin said.”

Climate change

Last year, the Globe and Mail reported on the 2012 IJC report. That article noted, “The largest part of the drop in the lakes’ water levels is attributed to climate change: shorter winters and dry, hot summers meant more water evaporating from the lakes than was going back in through precipitation.” The significant impact of climate change on lake levels has also been highlighted in studies by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Large Lakes Observatory, NASA, and the US Geographical Survey.

The Great Lakes as a Commons

In May 2012, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow spoke in Toronto, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Sarnia, Tiny Township, Owen Sound and London to promote the idea of a Great Lakes Basin Commons. The Sarnia Observer reported at that time, “The survival of the Great Lakes requires a new way of thinking, says Barlow. She is calling for the lakes to be designated as ‘Common’ to be shared, protected and managed by those living around them. She noted, ‘More water is being take out of the lakes every day than is returned by nature and they’re suffering from pollution, invasive species, climate change, fracking, mining in the U.S. and other challenges.’ Barlow is calling for a new narrative for the region where those living there ask the same questions being asked by the First Nations. That includes asking how the lakes can be protected for the next seven generations, and how they can be shared equitably and responsibly, she said.”

Barlow will be continuing her Great Lakes speaking tour with to-be-finalized events in Duluth, Minnesota (April 4); Milwaukee, Wisconsin (April 15); Grand Rapids, Michigan (April 16); Rochester, New York (April 25); Toronto, Ontario (April 27); Saugeen Shores, Ontario (July); Bayfield, Ontario (September 28); and perhaps other dates to follow.

To read Barlow’s report ‘Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever’, please go to http://canadians.org/greatlakes.