Month: September 2017

EPA Grant Helps Superior Watershed Partnership Prevent Swimming Advisories

Keweenaw Peninsula Island
A Lake Superior island off Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of and the Superior Watershed Partnership.)
MARQUETTE, MICHIGAN – The EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) recently announced the award of a $288,500 grant to the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) to implement an innovative large scale green infrastructure project that will protect Lake Superior water quality, help prevent public beach closures and restore Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
[Editor’s note – Superior Watershed Partnership Executive Director Carl Linquist will be attending the Sept. 28/29 Climate Change Forum being held at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Carl is a panelist in the 9:00 a.m., Sept. 29th session entitled, Climate Change Impacts on Lake Superior and its Watersheds]

The SWP, in cooperation with the City of Marquette, will address urban runoff impairments by relocating an open-channel stormwater drain adjacent to Hawley Street that currently discharges directly across a public beach into Lake Superior.  Relocation of the outfall of this storm drain (100 % disconnection) into an adjacent coastal wetland restoration project will provide a consistent source of hydrology to the wetlands (12 acres), and reduce documented human health risks as well as water quality impacts to the nearshore waters of Lake Superior and adjacent public beaches.

“This is a great example of a local non-profit working with the city to better protect Lake Superior. The project not only reduces storm water runoff to Lake Superior it also restores coastal wetlands that help filter pollutants and provide important habitat for wildlife” according to Geraldine Grant, SWP Senior Planner. The project also includes the Great Lakes Conservation Corps to assist with native plant restoration.

The project will reduce water quality impacts and human health impacts (including e-coli bacteria levels) at public beaches identified through a previous EPA-funded Great Lakes beach monitoring project and provide consistent hydrology for the restored wetlands under changing climate conditions. The projected volume of stormwater that will be captured and filtered by the restored wetland habitat ranges between 7.5 million gallons and 9.1 million gallons per year under various climate scenarios (EPA National Stormwater Calculator).

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a pretty competitive grant program, so the City of Marquette is thrilled to partner on this collaborative clean water project.  It’s a win-win; it saves city funding and it better protects Lake Superior” said Curt Goodman, the Director of Public Works and Utilities.

The project will result in significant measurable improvements in water quality in the nearshore waters of Lake Superior and public beaches in the City of Marquette and will help Marquette adapt to changing climate conditions including more frequent and intense storms, changing lake levels, and increasing Lake Superior water temperatures.  The proposed green infrastructure practices will also be resilient to temperature and precipitation changes.

The project will include an education and outreach component to raise public awareness about urban stormwater impacts and coastal habitat restoration. Project information will also be shared with the Great Lakes Beach Association, the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative as a model for urban stormwater management and coastal wetland habitat restoration.

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Will Houston Be A Wakeup Call for Great Lakes Cities?

Flooded homes near Chicago.
Flooded homes near Chicago, July 2017. (Chicago Daily Herald Photo)

On September 5th, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Bureau published an article entitled, “Will Houston Be A Wakeup Call for Great Lakes Cities?” The article begins in the following way.

“Rail lines closed, flooding caused power outages and a hospital was forced to transfer patients. Stranded motorists were rescued by boats, the Red Cross opened shelters and the weather forecast said additional heavy rain was on the way.


No, that’s Chicago in July.”

The article cites recent examples of several cities around the Great Lakes, including Thunder Bay, where rain events completely  knocked out city infrastructure and caused widespread flooding. That’s not even mentioning last summer’s hugely damaging rainstorm last summer at Saxon Harbour, just east of the Wisconsin/Michigan line on Lake Superior. The article makes the point that Houston should be a wakeup call for Great Lakes cities and that the traditional focus of simply installing more and more pipes and pavement, will no longer work. As an example, instead of paving over wetlands, such natural resources could be used to attenuate, or retain, vast quantities of water.

Many recent articles cite the lack of zoning in the Houston case and this article notes the issue as well, concluding by saying, “if we can accelerate attention to good zoning, green infrastructure solutions and renewable energy sources, we’ll be viewed as the smart ones in years to come.”

Houston was usurped, just like many Great Lakes cities have been usurped by storm events in recent years, albeit to a much lesser extent than Houston. Now that the storm is over, Houston is seeking cash, whether they took any steps to prevent flood damage or not. This cash ultimately comes from every tax payer in the nation, most of whom are happy to give, especially taking into account the nature of the storm.

Attention to some of the points made in the article however, may allow Great Lakes cities to reduce risk and ultimately reduce costs. This could benefit their own municipal taxpayers, and perhaps, every taxpayer in the nation. Hopefully, some of these steps will be taken now, not after the next damaging event.

Read the Great Lakes Now article…

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Range of Actions Improve Water Quality and Aesthetics

Tugboat Tour 2012
Members of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan Public Advisory Committee observed no “slicks, scums, foams or odours” on a tugboat tour of the lower Kam and Lake Superior Harbour in 2012. More recent harbour surveys support this observation. From left Bruce Pritchard, Aaron Nicbholson (RAP Coordinator), Jane Todd, Heidi Strobl, Sarah DaSilva (Environment and Cimate Change Canada), Gerry Dawson (tugboat Capt.), Jean Hall-Armstrong (kneeling, Advisory Committee Co-chair).

Harbour Success Story

“Aesthetics” is definitely not one of the words that come to mind when talking about cleanup of Thunder Bay Harbour. Many local residents will be aware of “the blob,” an area of creosote contamination cleaned up by 2005. Some people will be aware of a serious problem with mercury contamination in the northern portion of the harbour which has yet to see cleanup. Others will be aware of projects like the McKellar embayments, an effort to establish wetland aquatic habitat adjacent to the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority Mission Island Marsh Conservation Area. Aesthetics however, does not initially come to mind when talking about Great Lakes Cleanup.

Members of the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan (RAP), or harbour cleanup plan, see things differently. They contend that Thunder Bay has a success story on its hands. So, just what is “aesthetics” and how could this be a Great Lakes Environmental problem, let alone a success story.

What is “Degradation of Aesthetics?”

Abitibi plume
This 1977 photo of a fine papers mill in the Current River area of Thunder Bay shows a plume extending into Thunder Bay Harbour.

Degraded aesthetics is actually more serious than one might initially think. Remedial Action Plans across the Great Lakes, including places like the Detroit River, Toronto Harbour and Duluth Harbour, define degraded aesthetics as including, “slicks, scums, odours, foam, unnatural deposits, colour or turbidity.” If you are thinking that you haven’t seen anything like that out on Lake Superior, look back in time. Degraded aesthetics became a major concern on the Great Lakes due to conditions prevailing in earlier decades. The Cuyahoga River, Chicago River and Rouge River, all flowing to the Great Lakes, each caught fire prior to the outset of substantive Great Lakes cleanup in the eighties. Not once, but several times. Yes, slicks, scums, odours and foam were very much a reality. Thunder Bay was not nearly as bad, but photographs included with this article clearly demonstrate degraded harbour aesthetics.

What’s the baseline?

Thunder Bay Harbour historical
This photo, taken in 1938, shows log booms in almost every section of Thunder Bay harbour, demonstrating the extent of industrialization in earlier decades.

In Thunder Bay, a 1991 report setting out environmental issues and challenges for the Thunder Bay Area of Concern states that, “Degraded water quality has impaired river and harbour front aesthetics, thereby affecting recreational use of associated lands and water resources.” (p. 36, Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan Stage 1 Report, 1991). Additionally, a major 2004 report for the RAP notes that, “Extensive industrialization along the waterfront has impaired the aesthetic value of the Area Of Concern. Oil slicks and creosote deposits have made the harbour less attractive to recreational boaters, fishermen, and the public.” (Page 18, Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Report, 2004)

In order to understand the dramatic improvement in harbour aesthetics, a baseline is necessary. As substantial programs for Great Lakes Cleanup got underway in the late eighties, Thunder Bay Harbour was very heavily industrialized, with four active pulp and paper mills. Today there is one. Moreover, environmental regulations have improved dramatically, along with vastly improved industrial and municipal effluent treatment. The net result is that since implementation of the RAP, aesthetic degradation (slicks, scums, foams, odours, etc.) has virtually disappeared.

While degraded harbour aesthetics is focused primarily on water quality, another factor contributing to improved aesthetics is work to improve fish and wildlife habitat around the harbour. Some of these projects, like the habitat work completed as part of creosote cleanup, resulted in several hundred meters of greenery along the shoreline.

In dealing with aesthetics, The RAP Public Advisory Committee developed a set of criteria, whereby it could determine whether the problem of degraded aesthetics had been addressed, or otherwise. These criteria state that the waters of Thunder Bay Harbour should be, “devoid of any substance which produces a persistent objectionable deposit, unnatural colour or turbidity, or unnatural odour (e.g. oil slick, surface scum).”

Link to further photos demonstrating historical aesthetic conditions in Thunder Bay Harbour.

Link to a December, 2015 Infosuperior article about aesthetics

What’s the Evidence?

Anecdotal evidence from people who have used the harbour over many years, suggests a complete turnaround in conditions. One word sums up conditions Thunder Bay Rowing Club members experienced in the lower Kaministiquia River in earlier decades – “disgusting.” Sailors from the Thunder Bay Yacht Club, many of whom grew up regularly sailing Thunder Bay’s waters, also note that slicks, scums and foam were once regular occurrences but are no longer found in the harbour.

Debris spills into the harbour.
Wood, bark and debris spill into Thunder Bay Harbour from a wood preserving facility in this photo from the eighties.

Anecdotal evidence is far from sufficient to document improved conditions however and several surveys of the harbour have been taken by the Remedial Action Plan over the last few years. These detailed surveys were not simply snapshots of conditions on a given day, rather they took place over a period of months across the entire harbour, including the lower Kaministiquia River. The level of detail can be seen in this draft report.

Public Advisory Committee members have also toured the harbour to take a closer look, from the Resolute Forest Products outfall in the Kam River and across the entire breadth of the harbour on Lake Superior. All reports note that slicks, scums and odours, are no longer present.

Foundations for Success

A very long list of substantive actions provide the foundation for improved harbour water quality, which is an integral component of improved aesthetics. With this list of completed actions in hand, the Remedial Action Plan Public Advisory Committee, along with agencies supporting the RAP, like Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, will now ask that “degraded aesthetics” be removed from the list of concerns associated with Thunder Bay. This request will now go forward to agencies involved in implementing Great Lakes cleanup through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Perfection has definitely not been achieved in Thunder Bay Harbour and many environmental challenges remain. Improvement in water quality and aesthetics however, is clear. Industry, government and the public, have all contributed to this success.

A list of actions which have resulted in improved harbour aesthetics follows below:

1991 – Bowater Pulp and Paper Mill upgraded their treatment technology to improve the quality of wastewater discharged to the Kaministiquia River. Cost – approximately $68 million. Proponent: Bowater Inc. (now Resolute Forest Products Inc.) – (Stage 2 Report, p. 27 – FWH-7)

1992 – Redesign Waterfront Park to protect and enhance shoreline of the Kaministiquia River including scenic overlook, promenade and additional 500m. of park at a cost of $1.5 million   Proponent: Environment Canada/Great Lakes Cleanup Fund (EC/GLCUF) through Lake Superior Programs Office (LSPO) (Stage 2 Report, p. 26 – FWH-4)

1993 – Island creation and habitat rehabilitation at the mouth of McVicar Creek at a cost of $595,000 – Proponent: EC/GLCUF, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), Ontario Ministry of the Environment (OMOE), Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) through LSPO (Stage 2 Report, p. 25 – FWH-3)

1994 – Creation of embayments in the McKellar River to restore productive littoral habitat at a cost of $607,800 – Proponent: EC/GLCUF, OMNR, OMOE, OMNR through LSPO (Stage 2 Report, p. 26 – FWH-5)

1995 – Installation of secondary effluent treatment completed at Abitibi–Consolidated Inc. – Proponent: Abitibi–Consolidated Inc. (Stage 2 Report, p. 33 – PS-8)

1997 – Smurfit-Stone Container Canada Inc. upgraded its treatment technology to improve the quality of wastewater discharged to Lake Superior. The cost of this upgrade is unknown – Proponent: Smurfit-Stone Container Canada Inc., (Stage 2 Report, p. 32 – PS-4)

1999 – The City of Thunder Bay adopted the Pollution Prevention Control Plan to reduce urban pollutant loadings to receiving waters and to protect water resources. Proponent: City of Thunder Bay, Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Agreement (Stage 2 Report, p. 36 – PS-7)

2002 – Northern Wood Preservers, Canadian National Railway Co., Abitibi-Consolidated Inc., Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment completed the Northern Wood Preservers Alternative Remediation Concept (NOWPARC). The project cleaned up contaminated sediment and improved fish and wildlife habitat, costing $25 million. Proponent: Abitibi-Price Inc., Canadian National Railway Inc., Northern Sawmills Inc., OMOE, EC/GLCUF  (Stage 2 Report, p. 28 – NPS-1)

For several years, prior to release of the 2004 Stage 2 Report for Thunder Bay, community waterfront cleanup events were held each spring along the Thunder Bay waterfront and rivers flowing into Thunder Bay harbour. Proponent: City of Thunder Bay, Lake Superior Binational Program (Stage 2 Report, p. 40 – ES-1)

2005 – The City of Thunder Bay upgraded to secondary treatment at the Water Pollution Control Plant to improve wastewater quality discharged to Lake Superior. The cost of this project was $73.6 million. Proponent: City of Thunder Bay, OMOE, EC/GLSF (Stage 2 Report, p. 32 – PS-6)

2012 – A Thunder Bay PAC harbour tour, focusing on aesthetics, was taken in September, 2012. The tugboat “Glenelda” carried PAC members to all areas of the harbour, including the lower Kaministiquia River as far upstream as the Resolute Forest Products outfall. PAC members filled out a survey of Thunder Bay aesthetics during the tour. These surveys are appended to this document.

2015 – A survey of aesthetics was taken by Lakehead University over 20 weeks in the lower Kaministiquia River and across the entire harbour.

2016  – A survey of aesthetics was taken across the ice-free season and included the lower Kaministiquia River and across the entire harbour. A draft report on summer 2015 monitoring activity is accessible here.



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Debate Headlines Climate Change Conference

Great Lakes Water Temperatures
Great Lakes surface water temperatures September 12, 2017. Click here to compare this year to the last two years (NOAA data).

Conference Description

As noted in the September 1st issue of Infosuperior, Lakehead University will be hosting a Climate Change Forum on September 28th and 29th. Events on day 1 take place in “The Study”, the student coffee house at the university, while Day 2 events take place in the Conference Room of the Bartley Residence. The agenda for the forum has been finalized and is available on the forum website, linked below. There is no charge to attend all or part of the forum but participants must register in advance. Meals are included in registration both days.


Conference website and full agenda

Speaker and Panelist Bios

Be it Resolved…

Events get underway at 1 p.m. on day 1, September 28th but the 2:45 p.m. debate definitely headlines activities. Students from various faculties will gather in The Study Coffee House at 2:45 p.m. and duke it out over the following resolution:

Be it resolved thatHumans are rising to the challenge and tackling the climate change crisis

Teams on either side of the topic have been organized in advance and to keep it fair, the debate will be moderated. The Study staff will still be at work serving up great beverages during the debate so grab your coffee early and find a good seat.

By the way, who gets to decide the winner? Is that the audience?

Other Day 1 sessions include:

  • What Is Climate Change Anyway?
  • Picturing Climate Change in Thunder Bay: Urgency, Hope, and Action. A guided tour of EarthCare Thunder Bay and Lakehead University’s Collaborative photovoice exhibit on climate change.
  • Sherilee Harper: “Climate change impacts on Indigenous peoples’ health: Stories from around the world”
  • Boreal Heartbeat: Emotional Impacts of Climate Change in Northwestern Ontario. Kelsey Jones-Casey, Fulbright Scholar

Day 2 Outline

Day 2, September 29th, starts out at 08:30 a.m., concludes at 4:45 and includes the following sessions:

  • Climate Change impacts on the Lake Superior/watersheds
  • Climate Modelling and Data Use
  • The Bio-economy and climate mitigation
  • Ontario’s Aboriginal Communities: On the frontline of the fight against Climate change
  • Community Awareness Perspectives

The website has been updated. Examples of recently posted information follow, describing a couple of the forums:

Water and Lake SuperiorRob Stewart, Moderator

This session runs from 9:00. to 10:30 a.m. on Day 2, September 29th.

Practical solutions to the challenges arising through climate change are beginning to be implemented in Lake Superior communities. The purpose of this session is to present, discuss and debate these solutions, as well as the many challenges which remain.

This panel will focus on Lake Superior environmental restoration and protection in the face of climate change. Forum participants will cite examples of effects and challenges induced through climate change in specific communities around Lake Superior. Participation by Canadian First Nations and U.S. Tribal community representatives will ensure inclusion of indigenous perspective and knowledge.

Climate is a primary driver impacting Lake Superior and its surrounding watershed. Water levels, water temperature, fish populations, other aquatic and terrestrial organisms, even area communities and the Great Lakes economy are all inherently linked to climate.

Changes in climate are already well documented and include increased Lake Superior surface water and air temperature, changes in the onset of seasons, decreased ice cover and increased storm intensity. Changes to cold water fish species, coastal wetlands, forest habitat, shoreline, and phytoplankton/zooplankton populations are just some of the changes which may take place, or which have begun to take place.

Resources: The Lake Superior Action and Management Plan, which is central to Lake Superior restoration and protection, recognizes climate change as a significant factor affecting Lake Superior. The Lake Superior Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report sets out available science and identifies adaptation strategies and actions for Lake Superior ecosystems.

Climate Models and the Real WorldAdam Cornwell, Moderator

This session runs from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Day 2, September 29th.

Climate models are the best tools that we have for understanding and anticipating changes to the climate system. Due to the interconnected nature of this system, models produce the most robust and reliable results when applied at large or global scales. However, this creates a problem for those who need to plan a response to climatic changes. Practitioners have a requirement for data that is useful on small scales. Local features such as land cover can create climates that are very different from the large-scale averages simulated by global circulation models. As well, the most reliable and significant variables in climate models, such as temperature, do not always describe the changes that are of most concern to practitioners, such as hailstorms or flooding.

The purpose of this panel is to address this gap between climate models and the real world: how modellers and practitioners can work together to identify practical scenarios of likely climatic change.

Spread the Word

Lakehead University’s 2017 Climate Change Forum could be the first of many and has future potential to to explore a vast array of topics and challenges. The forum is open to the university and broader general community. Participants can attend all or part of the forum. If you know people who might be interested…spread the word.





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A Glimpse of Trowbridge Light

This lens at Trowbridge Island Light is several feet across and was in use for decades.

Many of the lighthouses on Lake Superior see frequent visitors but Trowbridge Light is one where visits are few. Western Lake Superior sailors, kayakers and other boaters pass this lighthouse on almost every extended Lake Superior cruise, almost never going ashore. The light is located high above the steep cliffs that form the island shoreline, just off Thunder Cape. Shoreline cliffs make the island difficult to approach, let alone leave a boat alone long enough to go ashore. On occasion, boats drop passengers ashore at the small slab of concrete serving as a dock, then circle the island to pick up visitors again. There is no protected harbour and unattended boats risk bouncing against the steep rock, even in calmer water. In former times, the helicopter pad on the island was used frequently as staff and supplies came ashore by air.

In a November 1906 blizzard, the  255′ Canadian steamship Theano wrecked on Trowbridge. The Captain and crew took to lifeboats in large seas and made an extremely cold, difficult passage around Thunder Cape to Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay. Trowbridge Light was constructed 17 years later in 1923.

On August 20th, Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior (CLLS), in conjunction with the Thunder Bay Yacht Club, held a bar-b-que on the shore of nearby Tee Harbour, some 3 km. north of Trowbridge Island in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  The bar-b-que was followed by guided tours of Trowbridge Island Light conducted by Paul Moralee, CLLS Managing Director. The photos included in this post were taken during this tour and because the island is seldom visited, represent a rare snapshot of this light station. CLLS is a non-profit organization dedicated to preservation, protection and promotion of Lake Superior heritage, specifically lighthouses like Trowbridge.

Trowbridge Derrick
The derrick was used at Trowbridge Island to lift fuel barrels from Canadian Coast Guard vessels.

Coming in close to the north side of the island, a derrick high on a cliff comes into view. Trowbridge is now unmanned and solar powered but for decades fuel was the island’s lifeblood, powering the diesel generators that ran the light and provided all power on the island. Fuel barrels were hoisted up and ashore on slings from vessels which lay alongside the cliffs and concrete pier. Off-loading operations were intimately tied to lake conditions which often dictated stops and delays.

On the island, a series of narrow concrete walkways and staircases winds visitors higher and higher on the island. After proceeding up from the pier, a huge house, once used for the lighthouse keeper and his assistant, is the first building visitors see. While many of the lighthouses on Lake Superior have two dwellings, one for the keeper and a separate residence for the assistant, this lighthouse has only one house, doubly large. The house has interior divisions to provide some degree of separation and privacy for those who manned the light. These people were often in close proximity to one another for long periods of time.

Trowbridge Keeper's House
The “keepers” and assistant keeper’s accommodations are combined in one house on Trowbridge.

The exterior of the house appears to be in good condition, as if it was lived in only yesterday. CLLS points out however, that the home needs much work, although the metal roof appears to be in excellent condition. The last keeper on Trowbridge was Orton Rumley, who left the island in 1988 when the light was automated. In 1994 Maureen Robertson made arrangements with the Canadian Coast Guard to live at the light. She stayed there 14 summers and officials were pleased to have someone care for the place. Maureen decorated the main house with paintings, nick-nacks and other eclectic treasures she’d found at yard sales, even decorating rooms in various “themes.”  She was well-known to residents of nearby Silver Islet who visited the island occasionally. Maureen left the island by helicopter at the conclusion of her stay in 2010.

Trowbridge Tools
Tools hang neatly on the walls in the Trowbridge workshop, just as if they were used only yesterday.

After a walk of a hundred meters or so from the house, the next building to see is the huge workshop building, also housing banks of batteries once charged by large diesel generators. The workshop is in excellent condition, again, just as if someone was working there yesterday. Rows of tools neatly line the walls. The shop has a metal roof and concrete floor and is perched high above Lake Superior. The building has the feel of the ultimate workshop, a large open space with plenty of work benches, tools and light. A first class place for work and repairs, by any standards.

Trowbridge Staircase
Concrete walkways and steep wooden staircases wind around Trowbridge, all the way up to the light.

From the workshop, a steep series of wooden staircases leads to the highest point on the island and up to the light tower. The tower is only 11 m./37 ft. in height but is situated at the highest point on the island, some 35 m./114 ft above the lake. Inside the top of the light tower, a new, modern, solar-powered light is in use but the huge original lens is still in place and rotates very freely on its base with just a slight push. The view from the tower is fantastic, especially to the east down a long string of islands towards Black Bay and Porphyry Island lighhouse, the next light eastward and some 17 km./10 mi. distant.

Trowbridge Light
Trowbridge Light is onlt 11 m./37 ft. in height but is situated at the highest point on the island, some 35 m./114 ft above Lake Superior.

Lake conditions calm enough to allow for going ashore at the island are rare enough but a guided tour through all of the Trowbridge Island facilities is rarer still. Infosuperior wishes to thank Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior for this opportunity to view Lake Superior heritage up close, and for their work in preserving Canadian lighthouses. Future plans of this non-profit group include work to ensure preservation of the buildings on the island and also changes to the concrete pier which will allow boats to more safely and  easily lay alongside the island.

View more pictures of Trowbridge Light here.

Thunder Bay Yacht Club has partnered with CLLS to provide improved docking at Porphry Island light, putting forward substantial funds and manpower in the process. Parks Canada and the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area have also contributed to CLLS efforts to improve docking.

Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior offers annual memberships to support the organization as well as lighthouse visits. More information is available here.



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Diversion Decisions: Great Lakes Water Application Process Under Review

Last year, early editions of InfoSuperior’s newsletter closely followed a story about Waukesha, WI, a city which made the first successful bid to divert water outside the Great Lakes basin. The controversial event was highly-publicized and hotly debated. Many residents and officials from the Great Lakes basin feared the decision would set precedent for other communities outside the basin to access Great Lakes water at the expense of wildlife and ecosystems who depend on it, and regions who benefit from it.

In early August this year, news broke that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative – a collective of 131 Canadian and American mayors in the Great Lakes region – had dropped their official challenge to the Waukesha diversion. Waukesha got its approval to divert Lake Michigan water from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council, a compact council made up of state governors and provincial premiers in the basin. The mayors initially challenged the compact council on its decision, but withdrew the challenge on a condition.

Instead of challenging the Waukesha diversion, the mayors have negotiated an agreement with the compact council for a more stringent, vigorous diversion application process. The idea is to improve the review process of future applications with an eye to more public input. Chatham-Kent mayor Randy Hope told CTV London that “Great Lakes communities like his had felt they had been left out of the decision-making process in the Waukesha case.” The Cities Initiative mayors struck a deal which will include a review of the application process including development of public engagement and public hearings in Canada and the U.S.

“It now puts our voice a little bit better heard when it comes to dealing with other applications,” said Hope, who is on the Cities Initiative’s board of directors. 

Waukesha initially made the bid because its aquifers were being poisoned by naturally-occurring radium. When Waukesha’s diversion was approved, fear surfaced that other thirsty communities dealing with everything from climate change, contamination, pollution, and drought would come looking for Great Lakes water. Among some communities in the basin, that fear has been amplified since the election of Donald Trump.

Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley commented to the Sarnia Observer that while there aren’t any new applications that he’s been aware of,

“Water is the new oil,” he said, noting concerns are that southwestern states in the U.S. will come knocking as climate change stresses water-hungry parts of the country.

“Especially with the current administration,” he said – referring to U.S. President Donald Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to slash $300-million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – “I am concerned about some sort of action being taken that could have an impact on the Great Lakes and drain our water levels.” Cities initiative members must be “confrontational” if that slippery slope starts, he said. “Because the issues are just too big.”

Ultimately, the Cities Initiative aims to protect the interests of its constituents, and conserve the Great Lakes basin as a precious natural resource home to diverse marine life. As mayor Hope notes, “This is not a backyard pool where you can simply fill it back up if it gets low. We’re dealing with a huge and complex ecosystem. We intend to protect it from any exploitation or misuse.”

Further reading:

“Great Lakes water diversion review process improved, Chatham mayor says” CTV Windsor, August 9, 2017

“Canadian, U.S. mayors drop challenge over Great Lakes water diversion” CTV London, August 3, 2017

“Sarnia mayor hopeful new agreement will prevent future diversions from the Great Lakes” Sarnia Observer, August 7, 2017










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