June 2010

International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS)

At the end of April of this year Lake Michigan was 11 inches below its historic average. This is three inches lower than this time last year. I’m sure you all remember the problems we had with low water in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The lake eventually dropped to twenty-three inches below normal. Things were so bad around the lakes that our government instructed the Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the International Joint Commission (IJC) to do something, and do it fast. A project team was formed first to study the St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair. In the 50’s and 60’s, when the St. Lawrence Seaway was being built, dredging for deep channels permanently lowered the lakes anywhere from six to 16 inches, depending on who you asked. Now it was thought that higher current flows generated by the deeper channels would scour the river bed, making it even deeper, and so increasing the outflow even more.

The study was completed and published in December 2009. The recommendation was to do nothing to the St. Clair, as no evidence was found of higher outflows or scouring.

The IJC was also given a second mission – make recommendations about changing the way water levels are controlled in Lake Superior. We held public meetings around the basin, and hopefully some of you attended those in Door County and Milwaukee. Attendance was very good, telling me that people are in fact concerned about what’s happening to ‘our’ lake. This study is due in 2012. What we’ve seen so far is that weather conditions and evaporation have a far greater effect on the lake levels than anything humans can do with the control structure at the Soo Locks. In fact, the data shows an alarming drop in water levels throughout the upper lakes that appears to be caused by Mother Nature – less precipitation in the basin and warmer winters – which allow more evaporation because there’s no ice cover. A graph of the situation clearly shows the trend.

Solutions? None yet. One of the public groups that saw the presentation by the IJC in Sturgeon Bay, when asked if they wanted the water level controlled, answered yes by a margin of about 95%. The Georgia Bay Association would like to build a dam at the foot of Lake Huron, but no-one is prepared to say that this will solve the problem. In fact, it may create other problems, and it would be very expensive.

So what does this mean to us? First, it means we haven’t got enough data yet to understand this well and more studying will have to be done. No-one is prepared to say that the lakes will continue to drop, nor will anyone say that climate change is part of the problem. But no one is prepared to say the lakes will rise again, either. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, write to Senators Kohl and Feingold and tell them what you think. Let us know too, so we can speak for you.

Great Lakes Compact

You remember this – it’s the law that prevents people from taking water out of the Great Lakes basin unless they’re a ‘straddling’ community or in a ‘straddling’ county. For some time Waukesha has been actively lobbying for Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee. But now they have a new mayor who’s not so sure they need it. They’ve also discovered that the cost to return the water – tested – to Lake Michigan would be prohibitive. At the moment they’re looking into other options, such as drilling more of there own wells, putting in a treatment system to remove the radon, contaminant that is causing the problem. How does this affect us? All the bickering and politicking going on doesn’t, but this whole situation shows that the Compact is doing its job.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

This is the new name for Great Lakes Restoration. After several frustrating years of meetings, panels, seminars, speeches, and politicking, we have finally gotten approval to do something. Wisconsin submitted 189 projects to the EPA for approval; the Lake Michigan Stakeholders group submitted about 140 of them. The total spending is just under $30 million. Now the rush is on to get these projects started. The fiscal year ends at the end of September and we’re afraid that if we don’t start spending the money, we’ll lose it. Congress authorized $475 million for 2010, and another $300 million for 2011. There’s a move afoot to get the $300 million upped to $475 million, but since we’ll never get the $475 spent this year and will carry over the surplus to next year, I don’t see the need for it. But you can feel good about this – it took five years, but we – WGLC – were finally successful in getting these projects defined and approved. Of course lots of other people did the actual work, but if we hadn’t stayed with this, it never would have happened.

Asian Carp

I’ve lived through the lamprey invasion, alewives, zebra mussels, cladophora and more, but none of them aroused as much concern as the Asian Carp. The latest word is that a second poisoning was done a few weeks ago and no carp were found. Traces of DNA still show up, though. The Corps of Engineers will not permanently close the locks, so our problem continues. There will be a study done on the cost of separating the Illinois and Des Plaines rivers permanently, which is the only real solution. Senator Feingold has been supportive on this issue, you may want to write him and see if he can’t do more.

Odds and Ends

  • Funding

As usual, we need money. All our funds come from members’ dues, but of the over 12,000 people who own property on the Lake, only about 300 actually pay. We need you to help – please donate whatever you can and keep your membership up-to-date. And, some of you will be getting an invitation to a beer and cheese tasting get-together in Door County in July, our way of saying thanks for the support you give us and an opportunity to recruit some new members. We’ll do a little briefing on what’s going on around the lakes, too. Bring your questions – your board members will be there to help answer them. Other events like this will be scheduled up and down the lake – watch your mail.

  • Survey

A few years ago we did a survey to get your opinions on various lake issues. We learned a lot. No such survey had ever been done before, and it opened some eyes in the DNR and the state legislature. Now we’re going to do another, but not all of you will be asked to respond. Later this summer we’ll put together a randomly-selected list of names and send each of them the survey questionnaire. Please get it back as soon as you can. When the results are tabulated we’ll send them out to everyone.

That’s it! Short and sweet for a change. Thanks for your support.

Jim Te Selle