Month: November 2017

Superior Almost One Foot Above Average

This 39″ video shows the St. Marys River Rapids when the control structure is set to 6 gates open, the current setting.

Lake Still Rising in October

As of October, Lake Superior was still rising at a time of year when it usually goes down. The lake is now at the second highest November level ever recorded. The Lake rose 1.7 cm./.5 inches in October. The Lake usually loses about 3.81 cm./1.5 inches in October. The International Lake Superior Board of Control notes precipitation levels across the watershed, and flows from rivers and streams into the lake, far in excess of average. The lake is now 33.02 cm./13 inches above the November 1st average and 20.32 cm./8 inches above the level on November 1st last year.

Lake Still Rising in September

In its previous news release (October), The International Lake Superior Board of Control had the following to say about Lake Superior water levels:

  • net water supplies to Lake Superior were above average in September
  • the Lake Superior level at the beginning-of-October is 29 cm./11.4 inches above average
  • the level of Lake Superior rose 2 cm./0.78 inches in September
  • on average the lake declines 2 cm./0.78 inches in September
  • the lake is 10 cm./3.93 inches above the level recorded a year ago at this time
  • Superior is expected to begin its seasonal decline in October [this did not happen].

Click to view real time and historical data related to Lake Superior water levels including:

  • real time flow rates for rivers flowing to Superior
  • Great Lakes Water Level Viewer
  • Great Lakes Water Levels Dashboard.

Flow Rates At the Rapids

The International Lake Superior Board of Control set the Lake Superior outflow to 3,130 cubic metres per second (m3/s)/110534.9 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) for the month of October. (By way of comparison, outflow on the Nipigon River, the largest river entering the Great Lakes, on either the Canadian or U.S. sides, was at 393.5 cubic metres per second (m3/s)/13896.3 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) at time of writing this article.) The Board notes that St. Marys River flows exceed the amount of water that can be put through the 2 hydropower plants on the river, so the excess is put through the control structure at the top of the St. Marys Rapids.

Another fundamental consideration in flow rates is the critical St. Marys River fishery, for which flows must be maintained above a prescribed rate. The International Joint Commission has this to say about the fishery, “The St. Marys Rapids provide critical spawning, rearing and feeding habitat for a number of macroinvertebrate and fish species. Native whitefish, lake sturgeon, trout, perch and pike, along with more recently introduced species of salmon can all be found here, making this a world-class fishery, and also one of the top fly fishing destinations in North America.” The Board says the average St. Marys Rapids flow in October will be approximately 994 cubic metres per second (m3/s)/35102.7 cubic feet per second (ft3/s). (By way of comparison, the average flow in the Colorado River is 849.5 cubic metres per second (m3/s)/30,000 cubic feet per second (ft3/s).)

Whitefish Island
Whitefish Island is located in the Canadian side of the rapids. (Photo: J. Bailey/

Island Flooding

Whitefish Island, located on the Canadian side of the river in the rapids area has some very low-lying ground. Batchewana First Nation has built trails, boardwalks and gazebos for the public on the island, which is a popular recreation area. The Board urges anglers and other users of the St. Marys Rapids to remain extremely cautious of the high and changing flows and water levels that will be experienced in the rapids.  The Board notes that flooding of low-lying areas of Whitefish Island is expected and will likely cause some recreational trails and features to be inundated.


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Lake Superior Annual Report Highlights Progress

A 2017 annual report highlighting efforts aimed at Lake Superior restoration and protection is now accessible at The document provides information about both accomplishments and challenges, including restoration actions, environmental monitoring and outreach.

2017 Annual Report for Lake Superior

The annual report is based on the Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan, or “LAMP”, which was released in 2016.

Federal, state and provincial agencies around Lake Superior contribute to Lake Superior restoration and protection efforts through the binational “Lake Superior Partnership.” Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry contribute to Canadian efforts.

Extensive coastal wetlands are located at Pays Plat east of Nipigon, Ontario. Such Canadian Lake Superior wetlands are both ecologically productive and rare. Protection efforts undertaken in partnership with Pays Plat First Nation are highlighted in the annual report for Lake Superior. (Photo: Debbie King)

The report lists several accomplishments, including the following:

  • an 83% reduction in mercury and an 88% reduction in dioxin emissions and discharges in the Lake Superior watershed compared to 1990 levels
  • in Ontario, Lake Superior wetlands, shorelines, and beaches of the Pays Plat First Nation are being protected and enhanced, and cultural connections to Lake Superior improved. An ecological inventory has also been completed and water samples collected to establish a baseline for long-term monitoring.
  • 646 acres/261 hectares, have been aquired in the area of Wisconsin’s Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area on Superior’s shorline. This includes coastal wetlands and helps to maintain water quality, habitat and recreational access
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Keweenaw Land Trust are working to preserve nearly 1,300 acres/526 hectares and 3.5 mi./6 km. of Pilgrim River corridor near Houghton for public recreational use. The property will be managed as a working forest through a $550,000 U.S. Forest Service grant
  • In Minnesota, Lake and Cook Counties have integrated Lake Superior Action and Management Plan goals into an ecologically-based watershed management plan.
Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area.
Wisconsin’s Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area.

The 4 page report states that, “Although the Lake Superior ecosystem is in good condition, there are serious threats including: aquatic invasive species, climate change, reduced habitat connectivity between the open lake and tributaries, chemical contaminants, substances of emerging concern, and habitat destruction.”

View the full annual report for Lake Superior on reports for all the other Great Lakes are also available:


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Ontario Offers Grants To $25,000

Guardians of Gitchigumi wetlands trail at Pays Plat.
Community members of Pays Plat First Nation tour  shoreline ecosystems on the Guardians of Gitchigumi Wetlands Trail. Environmental scientist James Salter and environmental technician Debbie King led the hike. The Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund has supported efforts to protect Lake Superior wetlands, shorelines, and beaches of the Pays Plat First Nation.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has announced its sixth round of Great Lakes Guardian Community funding. Grants of up to $25,000 are available to communities, not-for-profit organizations, Métis and First Nations organizations and municipalities.

Applications are Due November 10th, 2017.


Projects are evaluated on Direct environmental benefit(s) that supports at least one of the following three goals from Ontario’s Great Lake Strategy.
  • Protect water quality for human and ecological health (e.g. stream or wetland restoration, stormwater management, outreach and engagement)
  • Improve wetlands, beaches and coastal areas (e.g. planting vegetation, habitat rehabilitation, shoreline clean-up events, restoring wetlands using traditional ecological knowledge)
  • Protect habitats and species (e.g. planting native plants, creating habitats for wetland wildlife, creating fish spawning beds, restoring traditional harvesting areas)
  • Community Involvement, Collaboration and Leverage (e.g. volunteer involvement, youth involvement, training, site tours, collaboration among groups or organizations, in-kind or financial contributions)
  • Sound Project Design (e.g. clear and achievable objectives, feasibility, performance measures, experience, expertise, qualifications)
Pays Plat Volunteers
Volunteers collect samples at Pays Plat for water quality analysis. The Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund has supported the work of Pays Plat First Nation to complete an ecological inventory. Water samples were collected to establish a baseline for long-term monitoring. (Photo: Debbie King)

Additional Links and Resources

Please note that applications must be submitted through Grants Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Great Lakes Advisor Curniss McGoldrick would be glad to answer any questions about the fund. Curniss can be contacted at 807-475-1693 or curniss dot mcgoldrick at ontario dot ca. [email addresses printed on websites attract huge spam volumes, hence Infosuperior’s preceding written email format]

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Research Shows Healthy Plankton Populations – What Do You Think?

Phytoplankton? Zooplankton? What are they? Why are they so important to aquatic ecosystems? (2’23” video clip)

What’s Your Take?

Organizations involved in Thunder Bay harbour cleanup would like to know what you think. Here’s a bit of background:

Plankton are important microscopic organisms that live suspended in water, forming the base of the food chain. In the late eighties, at the outset of the Remedial Action Plan, or harbour cleanup plan, plankton populations were classified as “impaired.”  This decision was made in the absence of sound data or assessments to make such a determination. Take a look at the following information, then let us know what you think. Do we have enough information in-hand to change plankton’s status to “unimpaired?”

Status Linked to Improved Harbour Water Quality

When harbour cleanup began in the late eighties Thunder Bay was a highly industrialized harbour. Municipal and industrial effluent from multiple sources impacted water quality. Additionally, environmental regulations were less stringent than they are today. Based on these degraded environmental conditions and poor water quality, plankton populations were assumed to be impaired, even while no formal assessment had been carried out.

Since that time, harbour water quality has seen substantial improvement. Factors like the following have played an important role in this improvement:

  • industrial and municipal effluent treatment upgrades
  • industrial closures
  • improved stormwater management.

Research Supports “Unimpaired” Status

Studies document this improved harbour water quality and decline in contaminant and nutrient loading. As a result, agencies involved in the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, are confident that there is no reason to be concerned about the health of plankton populations, and no action necessary. These agencies are recommending that the status of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations be changed to “unimpaired.”  They’d like to know if you agree. The following document provides more detailed information:

Key Findings 

  • Despite the elevated levels of Total Phosporous (TP), primarily in the Kaministiquia River delta area, nuisance algae has not been reported during the monitoring surveys, which is likely due to the capacity of the lake to dilute concentrations of TP below the level that would cause algal blooms
  • The industrial landscape of the Thunder Bay Area of Concern has changed substantially in the past decades in that several industries that contributed high loadings of nutrients, Five-Day Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD5), and other contaminants, have closed and thereby lessened the load to the receiving environment
  • In terms of the three remaining point sources of nutrients and contaminants, treatment upgrades and/or process changes at these facilities have significantly improved effluent quality which is routinely monitored for various contaminants and acute and chronic toxicity tests.
  • The study area is not phosphorus limited, and chlorophyll-a concentrations did not likely result in undesirable levels of algae. Moreover, the AOC supports a more diverse fish community than adjacent areas.

Get in Touch

Here’s how to let us know whether you think this item should be removed from the list of local concerns:

Call – 807-343-8514 – you’ll get a real person – Jim Bailey – Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Coordinator

Email – jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca

Write  –  Our address is listed at the bottom of this page.

Comment – Using the brief comment form below.


Ongoing Monitoring

Monitoring of water quality and plankton populations in the Thunder Bay Area of Concern will continue every six years through the Great Lakes Nearshore Index Station Network. Monitoring was previously carried out in 2005 and 2011 with monitoring planned for the summer of 2017 and again in 2023.

A Plankton Overview from Biology Online

Biology Online provides the following information about plankton:

Plankton are microscopic organisms that live suspended in the water environment, and form a very important part of the freshwater community. They move via convection or wind induced currents. In almost every habitat of a freshwater ecosystem, thousands of these organisms can be found, and due to their small size and simplicity, they are capable of occupying large expanses of water and multiplying at an exponential rate. 

Plankton can be subdivided into two categories.

  • Phytoplankton – Phytoplankton are microscopic plants which obtain their energy via photosynthesis. However, some species of bacteria are also capable of photosynthesis and also fall under this taxonomic category. They are important to the ecosystem because they are part of the primary producing community and assist in recycling elements such as carbon and sulphur which are required elsewhere in the community.
  • Zooplankton – Zooplankton consist mainly of crustaceans and rotifers, and on the whole are relatively larger than their phytoplankton counterparts.

RAP Background

Thunder Bay’s harbour was listed in 1987 under the Canada – U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, as one of over forty environmental “Areas of Concern” around the Great Lakes. Urbanization, industrial and municipal wastewater discharges and habitat degradation were contributing factors. Contaminated harbour sediment, water quality issues and also concerns about the health of fish and wildlife populations were cited as problems requiring remedial action.

The Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, or RAP, supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Lakehead University.


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Lake Blasts Marquette, Western Lake Superior

Marquette storm damage is shown in the latter part of the above 2′ clip.

Drownings Directly Related to Storm

Two people have drowned in Lake Superior near Marquette, Michigan after a severe storm blasted western Lake Superior during the week of October 24th. Most of western Lake Superior on the U.S. side saw at least minor storm damage and flooding. Conditions on the Canadian side while stormy, were less extreme. Information about a couple of locations at more populated centres on Lake Superior follows.

The drownings occurred when two people were swept off the “Black Rocks” area at Marquette’s Preque Isle Park, a lakeshore recreation area in the city. At time of writing, the park remains closed to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic due to storm damage and hazards. Shoreline erosion, undercutting and land collapse are some of the dangers, exasperated by Superior’s high water levels. Area roads, trees, shoreline, and other Marquette parks also sustained damage. The city is working on cleanup. Winds registered 77 mph/123 km/hr. at Stannard Rock lighthouse, some 40 mi./64 km. northeast of Marquette,

In a separate incident to the drownings noted above, a well-known Marquette videographer describes a “near miss” during the storm (1′.27″ video clip).

Widespread Damage Along Marquette Shoreline

The parking lot at Marquette’s waterfront Shiras Park was also destroyed. City officials are discussing options, including redesign, as rising water levels, erosion, and loss of trees impact the park. Lakeshore Boulevard was damaged as well and parts of the street were completely underwater during the storm. Sand and debris covered parts of the street and stone riprap protecting the street from Superior was washed into the lake. The city was able to carry out repairs to the roadway after the storm hit but a second phase of the storm completely washed out this initial work. The city is considering plans to move the road further from the lake, which could cost in the neighbourhood of 10 to 12 million.

Duluth’s Park Point Residents Increasingly on Edge

In Duluth, Park Point residents probably had it worst [Park Point is the narrow sand spit dividing Duluth’s inner harbour and the St. Louis River estuary from the open waters of Superior. There are many homes on the spit.] Already on edge about Superior’s near record water levels, residents have become increasingly alarmed as they’ve watched their beach disappear, along with undercutting of adjacent soil and grass. In comparison to the seventies and eighties, the lake is now approximately 100 feet closer to some homes. This includes the 20 ft./7 m. or so the lake reclaimed in this latest storm. Additionally, some Park Point yards were submerged and several basemements flooded. The rest of Duluth also saw relatively minor waterfront damage, along with gravel and debris scattered over shoreline boardwalks and bike trails.

Concerns about drinking water were also raised by Duluth city officials, who said sediment stirred up by the storm made for a heavy load on the treatment system. They pointed out that the water supply still met very high standards but recommend that appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, which use large quantities of water, not be used.

There’s a Name For This Type of Storm actually has a term for the type of storm that recently passed through western Lake Superior. They call it “bombogenesis.” The site says this is an area of rapidly intensifying low pressure with a drop of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. says this type of event can happen at any time of year, but, “is most common from October through March, when a powerful, intensifying jet stream disturbance forces air to rise over a strong near-surface temperature contrast.” The Great Lakes have a history of such storms.

More on bomogenesis at

This surfing clip taken during the storm probably shows the waves best (3’12”).

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Interactive Coastal Wetlands Conservation Site

Coastal Wetlands Conservation Website
A new website assists collaboration for conservation of Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

A website for detailed exploration of coastal wetlands conservation in Western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and their connecting river system is now available. The site includes narrative created by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and New College of Florida.


The site combines geospatial data, biological information and models and is intended to assist in protecting species, habitats and natural processes across landscapes. The tool also enables cooperation and collaboration amongst organizations working towards similar conservation goals.

While the new site is not applicable to Lake Superior coastal wetlands, it is nevertheless, a fascinating tool incorporating both data and mapping capabilities. The site’s concept could become a model for coastal wetlands conservation in other part of the Great Lakes, and elsewhere.

Key components of the site include:

  • a coastal wetland decision support tool
  • a restoration assessment tool
  • tools for identification and prioritization of conservation actions
  • historical information about coastal wetlands.

This initiative came about after the U.S.Geological Survey released restoration assessment data for the Western Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay Area. The data is the product of a study funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and facilitated by the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Coastal Conservation Working Group. Hosted by USGS, the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative is leading development of the site.

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