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E-M:/ St. Clair River Dredging drains Great Lakes

Enviro-Mich message from "Alex J. Sagady & Associates" <ajs@sagady.com>

?A Bigger Drain Hole in the Great Lakes Threatens Region?s Environment, Economy?

TORONTO, ONTARIO (January 24)? Shoreline alteration, historical aggregate riverbed mining and navigation dredging are resulting in ongoing erosion at the bottom of the St. Clair River and have resulted in the permanent and continuing lowering of water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron, according to a new report issued today.

?In 1962, a shipping channel was dredged out of the St. Clair River that effectively opened a bigger drain hole in the Great Lakes,? said John Pepperell, president of Georgian Bay Association, a Canadian non-profit organization which coordinated the six-month study by W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers for GBA Foundation, a registered Canadian research charity. ?Everyone knew about the one-time loss of water that was caused when that channel was first opened. However, we have now discovered that ongoing erosion is making the outlet from Lake Huron larger, allowing water to leave faster than had been recognized.?

According to the report, the channel is eroding and is now over 60 feet deep at critical sections near the outflow. It only needs to be 30 feet deep for shipping. Pepperell said that ?without implementation of corrective measures, this drop represents an irreversible and ongoing decline in the long-term average levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron.?

W.F. Baird & Associates found that declines in actual water level since the mid 1800s in Lakes Michigan and Huron are double the latest International Joint Commission (IJC) estimates. According to Baird, the amount of water permanently withdrawn from the entire surface of Lakes Michigan/Huron is close to 80cm or 32 in. That is the equivalent of 28 times the volume of water in Lake St. Clair or ¼ the volume of water in Lake Erie.

?The recent riverbed erosion is unprecedented, even on a geologic time scale,? said Rob Nairn, author of the report. ?It has led to a significant lowering of Lakes Michigan and Huron with corresponding implications for the economy and environment.?

Lower lake levels impact the amount of cargo that ships can transport through the lakes, the access and value of property along the shores, and the quantity and quality of habitat for wildlife. The report?s findings also have legal implications under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

?This report is a wake-up call,? said Georgian Baykeeper Mary Muter. ?In recent years we have had a significant number of wetlands dry up on Georgian Bay, and the aquatic life forced out onto steep granite shorelines among the 30,000 islands cannot survive. Continued low water levels will threaten an already declining fishery. We need to protect the ecology and economy of this region, and we?re asking the Canadian and U.S. governments to take appropriate action and stop the water loss from our lakes.?

For two generations the continuing decline resulting in permanent withdrawals has gone undetected by the U.S. and Canadian governments and the agencies charged with monitoring Great Lakes water levels (the IJC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environment Canada). In part, the problem was masked by the cyclical high water levels that dominated from the mid 1970s, through the 1980s and into the 1990s and may be related to government cutbacks in funding for the important monitoring of the finite resource we have in Lakes Michigan/Huron.

The report comes at a time when the IJC is undertaking a study of the Lower Great Lakes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Transport Canada are studying the future prospects for Great Lakes commercial navigation. The government agencies will now have to re-calculate the math for outflows and net basin supply numbers (precipitation, runoff minus evaporation, diversions and outflow).

?This report serves as a cautionary tale to those who want to tinker with our Great Lakes,? said Tim Eder, the National Wildlife Federation?s director of Water Resources. ?You can?t fool Mother Nature. We can?t keep dredging deeper channels for navigation without serious repercussions for the people and wildlife who depend on Great Lakes waters.?

?The Great Lakes are more than simply a navigation corridor, and the time has come for the management of the lakes to reflect that,? said Jennifer Nalbone, habitat and biodiversity coordinator for Great Lakes United, a bi-national environmental organization. ?We have to stop treating the Great Lakes as though they can be literally molded to fit our short-term economic desires. We need a transportation system that fits within the physical confines of the Great Lakes ecosystem, not vice versa.?

The study takes into account other factors which influence lake levels, including fluctuations in precipitation and the effects of glacial rebound?the rise of large masses of land that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last ice age. The study shows that levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron have declined more than can be attributed to any factor other than erosion of the St. Clair riverbed.

Lakes Superior and Ontario have control structures to manage lake levels under a variety of climate conditions. There are no such control structures for Lakes Michigan and Huron. Once the water is gone, it is gone.

?Today, we have sophisticated methods of monitoring available but this study clearly shows the need and importance of using and making those tools available,? said Cheryl Mendoza, from Lake Michigan Federation. ?At a time when Canada and the United States are negotiating how to monitor and regulate Great Lakes water usage, we are witnessing a constant and large-scale permanent loss of water under the noses of both governments.?

GBA Foundation, a Canadian research and education charity, commissioned the report in response to concerns expressed by Georgian Bay Association?s over 4,000 member families. W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers Ltd. is an internationally respected coastal-engineering consulting firm.

?Regime Change (Man-Made Intervention) and Ongoing Erosion in the St. Clair River and Impacts on Lake Michigan-Huron Lake Levels? Technical and Non Technical Summaries are available in PDF format www.georgianbay.ca

For Immediate Release: January 24, 2005


Mary Muter, Georgian Baykeeper for GBA Foundation, 416-489-8101

John Pepperell, Georgian Bay Association 416-983-3721

Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United, 716-213-0408

Cheryl Mendoza, Lake Michigan Federation, 616-850-0745

Tim Eder, National Wildlife Federation, 734-769-3351, ext. 25

Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation, 734-769-3351, ext. 49

Gregor Beck, Ontario Nature, 416-444-8419 ext. 237

Rob Nairn, W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers, 416-489-8101

Wendy Douglas, World Wildlife Fund Canada 416-484-7726

Jordan Lubetkin
Regional Communications Manager
Great Lakes Natural Resource Center
National Wildlife Federation
213 W. Liberty, Suite 200
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1398
734-769-3351 Voice
734-769-1449 Fax

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