News Release April 26, 2013
IJC improves regulation plan for Lake Superior outflows and recommends action to investigate restoration of Lake Michigan-Huron levels
The International Joint Commission advised the governments of Canada and the United States, by letter dated April 15, 2013, that it will implement this year an improved plan for regulating Lake Superior outflows at Sault Ste. Marie. The new plan, Lake Superior Regulation Plan 2012, provides additional benefits compared to current regulation, especially during extreme water supply conditions.
In addition, the Commission recommends that the governments of Canada and the United States investigate structural options to restore water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron by 13 to 25 centimeters (about 5 to 10 inches), including a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis and a detailed environmental impact study. Specifically, the Commission encouraged governments to focus on options that would not exacerbate future high water levels but that would provide relief during periods of low water.
“Although future water levels are uncertain, we cannot ignore the damage from record low water levels,” said Joe Comuzzi, Canadian chair of the Commission. “From Georgian Bay to Door County, from shoreline property owners to the shipping industry, we heard calls for action, and we urge governments to act in response to our recommendations.”
“While the improvements are modest, the new regulation plan for Lake Superior outflows is better for the environment, better for navigation and better for hydropower production,” said Rich Moy, U.S. Commissioner. “But all stakeholders need to be aware that changes in regulation are not the answer to the extremely low levels we are experiencing right now.”
The Commission endorses the Study Board’s modelling and monitoring recommendations recognizing that critical information and tools are needed to adaptively manage this dynamic system.
In order to better understand how future water supplies may affect water levels, the Commission calls upon governments to better coordinate the binational collection of climate-related data and strengthen climate change modelling capacity to help improve water management. This approach underpins the adaptive management framework recommended by the Study so that decision-makers at all levels of government have the tools and processes to make informed decisions. The Commission will issue specific recommendations regarding adaptive management for the Great Lakes system following its deliberation of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Task Team final report. (more information available at ijc.org/boards/stlawrencerivertaskteam).
“Meeting the ongoing challenges of extreme low and high levels on the Great Lakes should be guided by robust adaptive management to inform decisions, at all levels, with the best information and full community engagement,” said Dereth Glance, U.S. Commissioner. “Our goal is for stakeholders throughout the Great Lakes to become engaged in the process and use the latest scientific information to prepare for extreme water levels and storms.”
“We commend and thank the Study Board and the more than 200 experts who worked on this project,” said Lyall Knott, Canadian Commissioner. “Their report advances scientific knowledge and provides governments with a solid basis for action.”
Lana Pollack, U.S. chair of the Commission, chose not to sign the Commission report because, in her view, it places insufficient emphasis on climate change and the need for governments to pursue and fund adaptive management strategies in the basin. 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 International Joint Commission’s advice to governments is in response to the findings and recommendations of the International Upper Great Lakes Study. Originally focused on updating the regulation plan for Lake Superior outflows, the five-year Study was expanded to include an examination of whether physical changes in the St. Clair River were affecting the level of Lake Michigan-Huron. At an exploratory level, the Study also looked at various engineering options for restoring Lake Michigan-Huron levels, including approximate construction costs and both positive and negative impacts.
Prior to making these recommendations to the governments, the Commission thoroughly reviewed more than 3,500 comments received from the public, including those provided at 13 public hearings held throughout the upper Great Lakes basin last summer (all comments available at ijc.org/iuglsreport/). Further information about the study, including technical documents, peer reviews and a “decision tree” tool describing how the Study Board reached its findings and recommendations are available at www.iugls.org.
For more information:
Bernard Beckhoff (Ottawa) firstname.lastname@example.org 613-947-1420
John Nevin (Windsor) email@example.com 519-903-6001
Frank Bevacqua (Washington) firstname.lastname@example.org 202-736-9024
Asian Carp – Eagle Marsh
Eagle Marsh is a state wetland area near Fort Wayne, IN. Never heard of it? Don’t be surprised; until recently few people have. It forms the headwaters of the Wabash River which flows into the Ohio River, part of the Mississippi drainage basin. So what’s so special about it? This – in periods of heavy rain or floods, high water can flow from Eagle Marsh to the Maumee River. The Maumee flows into Lake Erie, and is also the biggest tributary to the Great Lakes. During flood periods, Asian carp, which are common in the Mississippi basin, can easily move through Eagle Marsh into Lake Erie. There are no barriers, although the state has built a chain-link fence to separate the drainages and keep the carp out, and a berm is planned. The Corps of Engineers has been given a study to find other such areas in the Great Lakes Basin and fix them. The EPA and the Coast Guard are also involved. Whether they find these places before the carp do is open to doubt.
In 2005 we did a survey of shoreline property owners. Response was just over 20%, which is excellent. A survey like this had never been done before, and the feedback we got from you caused us to change our focus and priorities. Some government groups used it too, like the DNR. Since our mission in life is to make sure the general public, and shoreline property owners in particular, know what’s going on, we thought it was time to do another. Several hundred randomly-selected members will receive a questionnaire which we’d like you to complete and return. We’ll give you more information when we send them out, probably in June.
Low Water Levels
As you can all see, the lake level is down again. In fact, the Corps of Engineers thinks that in January or February there will be a new record low. The all-time low was set in April of 1964. This one may be more serious because it will enhance the growth of things like cladophora and mussels, and it will have a greater effect on shipping. In the study done by the International Joint Commission (IJC) two years ago, we recommended no changes to the lake, because we could not be sure how they would react to new dams, locks, or whatever. Now the Canadians are asking again for a dam, which would be in the St. Clair River just upstream from Detroit. Its purpose would be to maintain water levels in lakes Michigan/Huron. It isn’t as simple as that, though. Those of us on the Lake Michigan side want no changes: what would happen if Lake Huron, which is actually higher due to global rebound than Lake Michigan, got so high that they opened the gates? Would we see shoreline damage in Wisconsin? How about a flooded Lake Erie?. Expect to see a lot of activity about this throughout 2013. And keep an eye on your well if you have one, if the flow starts to drop off or sand begins to come out of your faucets, consult a well-drilling professional.
One of the things we do as often as possible is give presentations to interested groups about urgent issues. We’ve done presentations on subjects as diverse as the Great Lakes Compact, the Asian carp, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). We have none scheduled right now, but when we do we’ll let you know via this website. You’re all welcome to attend. If you are a member of a group that would be interested in hosting one of our presentations, contact us. There’s no charge for these events except for our expenses, but if you wanted to make a donation, we’d be most grateful.