Month: May 2017

Coping with Changing Great Lakes Water Levels

University of Michigan (Taubman College, Ann Arbor) reports that a multidisciplinary team of researchers have developed planning methods around land use and development decisions for Great Lakes coastal communities. The methods are meant to address unpredictably fluctuating water levels and increasing storms.

The coastal management techniques are aimed at communities of Great Lakes landowners who see low water levels as an opportunity to build close to shore. However, Great Lakes water levels have been shown to “fluctuate substantially,” and when water levels rise, this puts land developments at risk. Thus, the researchers’ goal is to help communities employ practical planning methods that “help them enjoy their coastal assets while protecting people, property, economies, and ecosystems.”

U of M suggests that scenario-based methods help communities plan effectively without conducting engineering studies, which can be costly. They explain that this approach

“…creates different combinations of water levels and storminess to anticipate possible climate futures and map coastal areas at risk of waves and flooding. Each possible climate future is paired with a set of management options, such as zoning-based setbacks, to create a single scenario. The scenarios are then used to identify the risks and benefits of development in coastal areas.”

This short video created by Resilient Great Lakes Coast summarizes the benefits of a prescient approach to Great Lakes coastal management.

The Resilient Great Lakes Coast website includes useful information on the research which details approaches, identifying high-risk flood areas, land use and environmental impacts, vulnerability assessment, fiscal impact analysis, implementing adaptation, and more. University of Michigan reports that the researchers worked with several coastal communities in Michigan to develop the planning methods, such as Ludington, Pere Marquette, Hamlin, Grand Haven, and St. Joseph.

If you’re interested to review and implement this Great Lakes coastal management research as a model in your own community, visit Resilient Great Lakes Coast. 

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Monitoring E.Coli in Urban Waters and Beaches

Water quality at swimming beaches has been a long-standing concern around the Great Lakes. Even in the cooler waters of Superior at Thunder Bay, ON, beaches like Chippewa often have swimming advisories lasting days on end. In fact, the City of Thunder Bay is now encouraging swimmers to move from Chippewa to nearby nearby Sandy Beach, a less enclosed situation wide open to the main lake. Swimming advisories due to high E coli counts at Sandy Beach are much less frequent.

Elevated bacteria levels can indicate pathogens causing health issues in humans, at which point swimming advisories are issued. These are “advisories” and not outright bans on swimming. On the U.S. side of Superior at Duluth’s Park Point, swimming is a popular activity and bacteria monitoring takes place at 4 separate locations (Park Point is the long sand spit separating the inner and outer harbour).

Duluth and Thunder Bay are not the only places where water quality for swimming is monitored. On the Canadian side, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit monitors summer water quality at Wildgoose Beach near Thunder Bay, Pull-A-Log Beach in Red Rock and Terrace Bay Beach. On the U.S. side locations as diverse as Sugarloaf Cove, Cutface Creek, Kadunce River and Chicago Boat Launch Beach in Minnesota are monitored as well as hundreds and hundreds of beaches in Wisconsin and Michigan, some of which are on Superior.

On Lake Ontario, Environmental organization Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (LOW) is looking for public health accountability for water testing in Toronto’s harbour. The Toronto Star (in partnership with Ryerson School of Journalism) found that no sector of government – municipal, provincial, or federal – is currently claiming responsibility for E. coli testing in Toronto’s inner harbour. LOW has provided such testing since last summer on the strength of crowdsourced funding and sponsorships.

According to the article, LOW’s testing returned numbers 30 times over federal guidelines for boating, and 300 times over provincial guidelines for swimming. At the time the Toronto Star printed the article, the city had recently received large volumes of rainfall: three days of approximately 20 mm in the first ten days of May. Officials from the City of Toronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate change told the Star that a heavy influx of stormwater accounts for the spike in E. coli discharges.

The City of Toronto tests for E. coli at its beaches, using the ‘blue flag’ system to signal which beaches are safe for recreational use. However, the City has not routinely tested for E. coli in the harbourfront since 2009. Provincial health officials stopped testing the area in 2008. Representatives from both the City (Frank Quarisa, director of waste water treatment) and MOECC (Jim Martherus, supervisor with MOECC’s environmental monitoring and reporting branch) told the Star that high variability in E. coli numbers after severe weather events, such as high rainfall, as the reason why testing is no longer done.

According to the Star, LOW raised $20,000 last year to resume testing; this year’s budget is set at $25,000. Cofounder Krystyn Tully believes government health officials should take responsibility for testing, as the inner harbour is used recreationally for boaters and paddle boarders. Tully tells the Star: “When you think of standup paddleboarding, unless you’re excellent, you’re going to end up in the water. If you’re kayaking, part of the training is learning how to flip over. We were seeing people in these sewage areas with no knowledge of the health risks which is why we started doing this.”

If you’re looking to use public waters in a recreational manner, here are some websites around Lake Superior which monitor public beaches and waterways for E.coli. Check them out or contact your local public health office before your Lake Superior adventure:


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$20M in US federal funding for Great Lakes Research

The University of Michigan reported on May 17 that they’ll receive a five year, $20 million grant from the U.S. federal government to form the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR). The funding comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U of M will pledge $2.35 million to the institute over the five-year cooperative agreement, between cost-sharing and in-kind support.

The initiative will be hosted by U of M, but the CIGLR represents the collective efforts of nine different universities, multiple NGOs, and private businesses in partnership across the Great Lakes region. U of M indicates that more than 30 of its researchers and hundreds of students will research observing systems and advanced technology, invasive species and food-web ecology, hydrometeorological and ecosystem forecasting, and protection and restoration of resources. Other university partners have collectively committed $2.8 million in in-kind support.

Though the CIGLR is a new project, the research institute has been operating for several decades. CIGLR was formerly the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research, originally established in 1989. The CIGLR states decision was made to change the institute’s name in 2017 to reflect the institute’s move toward more Great Lakes-centric research. They explain that,

“While the CIGLR will build on the foundations laid by CILER, the new institute will differ from its predecessor in several ways: greater investment by the host, more impactful partnerships, more interdisciplinary research, greater focus on co-design and quicker transitions from research to application.”

The CIGLR is one of 16 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations across the United States. It will be composed of a research institute and a national consortium; the institute’s mandate includes recruiting, training, and retaining research scientists and staff. The CIGLR’s primary NOAA research partner is the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, MI, where the CIGLR and NOAA researchers will work together on Great Lakes initiatives.

To see the University of Michigan press release, click here. 

To visit the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research website, click here. 

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Duluth Project to Restore Fish Habitat

A restoration projectunderway in the Grassy Point area of Duluth’s harbour seeks to clean up half a million cubic yards of wood waste almost 120 years old. The Duluth News Tribune reports that the wood which clogs the St. Louis River estuary is over 16 feet deep in some places, refusing to decompose and destroying fish habitat. The wood is a holdover from Duluth’s late nineteenth-century history as a lumber capital, when the LeSeur and St. Louis lumber companies were in operation at Grassy Point.

The project will be completed by the St. Louis River Restoration Initiative to the tune of $14.7 million, contributed by the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund, the U.S. EPA via the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and a pending settlement from the Stryker Bay Superfund site. The project’s mandate is to clean up much of the wood waste, but it will also remove 165,000 cubic yards of sediment from the mouth of Kingsbury Creek, 1.5 miles upstream of Grassy Point. The removed sediment will be used to recreate shallow water fish habitat where the wood waste has been removed.

The project is set to begin in January 2018, and is expected to run through 2019. The combined Grassy Point and Kinsbury Creek project will be the single largest restoration initiative in the Twin Ports under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The project is one of many being undertaken to restore industrial damage to ecosystems in the Great Lakes, thereby removing Duluth as an environmental area of concern (AOC). The St. Louis River estuary is located at the extreme western end of Lake Superior between the cities of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. It is one of 43 areas of concern on the Great Lakes, facing similar industrially-sourced environmental problems as Thunder Bay, Nipigon Bay, Jackfish Bay, and Bruce Peninsula. (To see more information on North Shore areas of concern, click here.)

Of the half-million cubic yards of sawmill waste at Grassy point, 300,000 (25,000 dump truck loads) will be cleaned up during the project. It will be carted to shore, dried, and burned as biomass to generate electricity at the Hibbard Renewable Energy Center. In places where the wood waste cannot all be removed, the Kingsbury Creek sediment will be brought in to cover it at a desired depth for fish habitat. The sediment will also be used to build an upland island, with wood waste forming the base of the island.

The initiative is expected to benefit people, as well as ecosystems and wildlife. The project includes plans for a fishing pier, walking trails, kayak landings, and increased public access to connect the estuary with nearby neighborhoods. The Tribune reports that the cost for these additions will be picked up by the city of Duluth when money becomes available.

The St. Louis River Alliance, a local nonprofit organization has been working for several decades to restore, protect and enhance the St. Louis River.

A public information/input session was held last Wednesday, May 24 at the Civic Center West/Evergreen Center in Duluth.

To see the full story from the Duluth News Tribune, click here.




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“Tremendous Support” for New Soo Lock, says U.S. Army Corp Official

Kevin Sprague, the Sault area engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stated earlier this month that an economic reevaluation report for a new Soo Lock is underway, to be completed in December. Industry proponents have been calling for  new Soo Locks to replace the aging MacArthur and Poe locks (built in 1943 and 1968, respectively). The Soo Locks facilitate a massive transportation and shipping industry in the Great Lakes region, whose economic output would rank third largest in the world if it were its own country. (BMO: Special Report on Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Economy, 2016)

Speaking at Lake Superior State University’s Cisler Centre in early May, Sprague told attendees of a construction summit that bids to secure funding for a new lock have a “tremendous amount of support right now.” The Sault Ste. Marie Evening News reports that Sprague was optimistic about receiving approximately $600 million in funding required for the new lock. “Theoretically, we could start getting money really quickly,” he stated.

Joanne Gray, chief of construction and technical support with the Corps, explained to construction summit attendees that the project could take up to 10 years to complete. She stated that while a contractor external to the community could be hired to lead construction, local firms would be eligible for sub-contractor roles. Gray also believes that an influx of out-of-town workers could represent opportunities for local hospitality industry and small business.

The Corps currently engages contractors on a number of maintenance projects for the MacArthur and Poe locks. Gray pointed to potential contracts for anchor gate replacement, a new fill/empty valve on the MacArthur Lock, and a gate replacement on the Poe Lock as future opportunities for local contractors.

To see the full article from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, click here.




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Michigan Sea Grant, Wayne State University Host International Freshwater Research Conference

USGS Research Ship "Kiyii"
The US Geological Survey Research Ship “Kiyi” off Thunder Cape near Thunder Bay, Ontario. The ship is used for Great Lakes research on Lake Superior.





From a media release dated May 11, 2017:

Freshwater researchers from the Great Lakes region and around the world will gather at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit May 15-19 for the 60th annual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR).

More than 1,000 participants will spend the week in Detroit, networking with colleagues and delivering more than 820 oral and poster presentations highlighting scientific findings in the areas of freshwater health and management.

“We are excited to co-host IAGLR’s 60th anniversary conference,” notes Jim Diana, conference co-chair and Michigan Sea Grant director. “With ongoing discussions about science and its relation to policy and management, meetings like this are more important than ever.”

The event’s two plenary talks will focus on change in the Great Lakes. On Tuesday, Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Endowed Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and winner of the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize, will discuss areas of study and investment needed to protect or restore high water quality in the Great Lakes. On Thursday, Cameron Davis, vice president of GEI Consultants and former senior advisor to the U.S. EPA administrator, will discuss the ways political, economic, social, and other systems impact the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The 2017 Michigan Seafood Summit — an annual event hosted by Michigan Sea Grant that brings together fisheries professionals, businesses, chefs, and the public for a day to talk about Michigan seafood — will be held in conjunction with this year’s IAGLR conference. On Tuesday, Summit sessions will provide information on a wide range of topics, including aquaculture systems, commercial fishery management, and local seafood as an emerging product. A Michigan seafood banquet will be held at The Atheneum in Greektown in the evening and is open to the public.

IAGLR session topics include aquatic invasive and nuisance species, Areas of Concern, and fisheries and fishery management. Additionally, a session discussing Jim Diana’s influence on Great Lakes research and management over his 35-plus-year career is scheduled for Wednesday. Diana is retiring from his role as professor at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, but will continue on as director of Michigan Sea Grant. A U-M alumni, students, and friends celebration and tribute to Diana will be held at Hockeytown Cafe later that evening.

Other session themes include:
·       Benthic Biology and Ecology
·       Genomics, Microbiology, and Emerging Technologies
·       Governance, Education, and Outreach
·       Monitoring, Modeling, and Analysis
·       Nutrients, HABS, and Emerging Contaminant Stressors in the Great Lakes
·       Physical Processes and Limnology
·       Remote Sensing and Detection Techniques
·       Rural and Urban Planning and Ecology
·       General Contributions
·       Great Lakes Governors and Premiers: Monitoring, Modeling, and Analysis

“Detroit’s Cobo Center is a great location for IAGLR,” notes Donna R. Kashian, associate professor at Wayne State University and conference co-chair. “Cobo sits on the banks of the Detroit River, an international boundary and the link between the upper and lower Great Lakes. Both the city and our lakes have overcome great obstacles and have experienced renewed health and vitality. They are a symbol of what can be when science, policy, and the people come together for a desired outcome. Wayne State University is proud to co-host such an event!”

The IAGLR awards banquet will be held Thursday, May 18, 6-9 p.m. aboard the Detroit Princess departing from Cobo Center. IAGLR’s Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented at this time, as well as various awards and scholarships honoring young scientists and outstanding research contributions.

Walk-in participants and media are welcome and must register onsite. A welcome reception to kick off the conference will be held Monday, May 15, 6-9 p.m. in the Cobo River Atrium.

View the complete conference program at
Follow the conference hashtag on Twitter: #iaglr2017

IAGLR is a scientific organization comprised of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, other large lakes of the world, and their watersheds, as well as those with an interest in such research. IAGLR publishes multiple issues per year of the peer-reviewed Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 380 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 27,000 students.

Michigan Sea Grant helps foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research, and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.


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Superior Watershed Partnership Announces Climate Change Corps

The Great Lakes Conservation Corps
The Superior Watershed Partnership is announcing the expansion of the Great Lakes Conservation Corps with the addition of the Climate Conservation Corps to help coastal communities adapt to climate change and increase community resiliency to more extreme weather events.

The Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) is announcing the expansion of the Great Lakes Conservation Corps (GLCC) with the addition of the Climate Conservation Corps (CCC). GLCC crews work on a wide variety of conservation, restoration and recreation projects while the Climate Conservation Corps is specifically dedicated to projects that help coastal communities adapt to climate change and increase community resiliency to more extreme weather events.

The Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust is an award winning Great Lakes nonprofit organization that has set national records for pollution prevention and implements innovative, science-based programs that achieve documented, measurable results.

This summer the SWP will have 6 mobile crews, comprised of 22 highly trained women and men working on projects to benefit Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron! Projects include; stream restoration, dune restoration, coastal wetland restoration, trail building, wildlife habitat restoration, tree planting, native plant restoration, invasive plant removal, community projects and more!

According to Emily Goodman, the SWP Corps Coordinator,”Much of the real work of Great Lakes protection and restoration involves hand labor. It takes people, not just heavy equipment, to properly restore a riverbank, or dune, or wetland. GLCC crews are helping to build more resilient coastal communities.”

GLCC crews are trained and supervised by experienced crew leaders with a related college degree and are equipped with a truck, tools, safety equipment, and camping gear for overnight stays at remote sites if needed. All crew members wear uniforms and receive Red Cross First Aid along with other project-specific training prior to each field season.

Coming soon; the Lake Superior Volunteer Corps! For more information please contact the Superior Watershed Partnership.

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Angelique Mott: Lake Superior Survival Story Inspires Novella, Film

A harrowing tale of survival on the shores of Isle Royale will be brought to the screen by local filmmaker Michelle Desrosier. During the winter of 1845-1846, Indigenous woman Angelique Mott and her husband were left for dead on a remote island off Isle Royale by copper miners. After her husband perished to hunger, Angelique managed to survive with small rations and survival prowess. Using James R. Stevens’ novella Angelique Abandoned, Desrosier is using the shores of Lake Superior to tell Angelique’s stunning story of persistence against natural, physical, and psychological odds.

Isle Royale is an island 72 km (45 mile) long, 14 km (9 mile) wide located in northwest Lake Superior, off the shores of Michigan. The Isle is the largest natural island in Lake Superior and surrounded by 450 smaller islands, which collectively make up Isle Royale National Park. Angelique and her husband were abandoned to the shore of one of these islands during the summer of 1845, and only Angelique managed to survive starvation and harsh natural elements until the spring of 1946. Angelique was only 17 when they were abandoned.

According to an article done by Emma Christensen at, Stevens first published his novella in 2009. After conducting interviews and research with Indigenous elders and artists, he wrote a fictionalized account of her story, basing it on accounts Angelique herself gave about her ordeal. The second edition of Angelique Abandoned features illustration by Cree Stevens, an Anishinabekwe (Ojibwe) and Cree artist located in Thunder Bay.

Desrosier adapted Angelique Abandoned into a screenplay. Her work won Best Screenplay at the 2015 Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards, and was awarded money from the inaugural CBC Breaking Barriers Film Fund. The film, titled Angelique’s Isle, is now in development by Thunderstone Pictures, co-produced by Circle Blue Films and supported by Telefilm Canada. A press release dated February 24th (retrieved from Lake Superior Art Gallery’s site) shows that the crew of Angelique’s Isle filmed winter scenes on the trails in and around Pumphouse Beach and Kevin’s Beach in Terrace Bay from March 1st-3rd. According to an article done by Christensen for The Walleye Magazine, filming will resume in Terrace Bay and at Fort William Historical Park this month.

As an Indigenous woman from Migisi Sahgaigan (Eagle Lake) First Nation, Desrosier felt particularly drawn to Angelique’s story and its parallels to issues Indigenous women face today. Desrosier tells Christensen that “There was something happening for me at the same time as listening, hearing and engaging in this process of murdered and missing Indigenous women.  I also had this story of Angelique, and something was so compelling and it was holding on to me so strongly because I think she’s a reminder.  She’s a reminder for me of how incredibly strong we are as women.”

The film is slated for a 2018 release date.

To find out more about Angelique’s Isle, visit  Thunderstone Pictures.

To read more of Emma Christensen’s reporting on Angelique’s Isle and Angelique Abandoned, visit her online articles at Lake Superior, and The Walleye Magazine.

To purchase a copy of Angelique Abandoned, to view the February 24th, 2017 Angelique’s Isle press release, and to access a copy of CBC’s article on Breaking Barriers Film Fund, visit Lake Superior Art



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Mapping Environmental Stessors on the Great Lakes

Environmental stress mapped across the surface of the Great Lakes. This map is a closer look at the cumulative influence of 34 different environmental threats on Western Lake Superior. The colours represent stress levels compared to other parts of the five lakes. (Image: University of Michigan)

It should be no surprise that the Great Lakes face immense environmental pressures. During the 1960s, Lake Erie was pronounced “dead” due to overloading of phosphorous from municipal waste.

The Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project — a group of about 20 American and Canadian researchers and environmentalists — produced the data for this map, which illustrates the cumulative impacts of human activity across the Great Lakes. It speaks volumes at a glance. David Allan, team lead for GLEAM’s project and a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, hopes the map will help improve how we manage the Great Lakes.

For three years, GLEAM’s scientists analyzed, weighted, plotted and merged 34 environmental stressors, including various effects of residential, commercial and industrial development, crisscrossing shipping lanes, thriving invasive species (in many areas, zebra and quagga mussels are a more serious problem than pollution) and climate change.

“The red spots on this map are not all red for the same reasons,” says Allan. “Our goal is to help people understand that there are many complex combinations of stressors at play here and that they have a spatial pattern. We have to resist the temptation to say, ‘What’s the most important thing? Let’s fix that.’ ”

The list of 34 individual stressors on the Great Lakes were divided into seven categories with specific maps available for each stressor.


  • Aquatic habitat alterations: Changes to aquatic habitat from diverse causes, such as shoreline hardening and erosion control structures, port and marina development, and tributary dams
  • Climate change: Changes to seasonal, average, and extreme temperature, precipitation, and ice cover
  • Coastal development: Land-based human development near lake margins, such as residential and commercial development and industrial activities
  • Fisheries management: Changes to Great Lakes ecosystems resulting from fishing pressure, stocking activities, and aquaculture
  • Invasive species: Changes to Great Lakes ecosystems from invasive and nuisance species in abundances not previously seen
  • Nonpoint source pollution: Nutrients, sediments, and waterborne contaminants transported from watersheds to the Great Lakes by streams and rivers and atmospheric deposition
  • Toxic chemical pollution: Chemical pollutants from industrial and agricultural sources.



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Lake Ontario Water Levels: Mixing Science with Politics

After the floods: May 2, 2017 photo of Lake Ontario shoreline taken by Gov. Cuomo’s office, Rochester, NY.

For meteorologists, high-water levels and flooding on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River have a simple explanation. Rain, and plenty of it, which has drenched the region for weeks, as well as the water from melting snow all throughout the vast Ottawa River watershed.

However, U.S. congressmen Chris Collins (R-New York) and John Katko (R-New York), whose districts border Lake Ontario’s southern shore, blame a different culprit – a recently implemented Canada-US protocol regulating the levels of Lake Ontario’s water.

The representatives, both Republican, have asked President Trump to withdraw from the bilateral agreement, known as Plan 2014. Plan 2014 came into effect in January under the International Joint Commission, the body that oversees transboundary waters and the Areas of Concern. Among other goals, Plan 2014 seeks to improve wetlands by allowing for more variability in water levels – a point that the congressmen portrayed as a questionable benefit linked to former President Obama.

“This controversial and ill-conceived plan was passed at the end of the previous administration and is already wreaking havoc on communities in Central and Western New York,” they wrote in an open letter to Mr. Trump.

“The reality is that this situation has absolutely nothing to do with Plan 2014,” says Robert Campany, a U.S. member of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board based in Clayton, N.Y. The board, which operates under the auspices of the Joint Commission, can adjust water levels by changing the outflow from the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam near Cornwall, Ont.

While Plan 2014 will increase variability in lake level over the long term, he said, the way it is being applied this spring is identical to what would have occurred a year ago when the former plan was still in effect. The reason is that Lake St.-Louis, where the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers meet near Montreal, is already swollen with rainwater and spring runoff. Lowering Lake Ontario, with its large surface area, by just one centimetre would translate into a 10-centimetre rise in Lake St.-Louis.

“It’s a balancing act,” Mr. Campany said. “Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to make everyone happy.”

That logic did not stop New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, from appealing to the Joint Commission last week to release additional water through the dam (he made no mention of the potential downstream effects on Montreal).

Whatever happens to Plan 2014, a key question is what to expect as climate change increasingly affects the various factors that influence lake levels.

Plan 2014 – Water levels on Lake Ontario and St Lawrence River (Text)

Read more here (The Globe and Mail) or here (National Post) …


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