Lake Superior

Record High Water Levels – Why?

U.S. Army Corps Water Levels Video
Click here to proceed to a 2’49” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers video providing very clear information about why Lake Superior water levels are high.

An endless stream of articles on Superior’s record high water levels has been published. How about publishing an article on why? Why, that is, water levels are this high in the first place.

In a recent Washington Post article, meteorologist and climate scientist Kim Frauhammer nicely answers this question. A link to this excellent, in-depth article is included below. Meanwhile, here is a snapshot providing key article takeaways about “why” Superior’s water levels are so high: 

  • high levels of precipitation in the Lake Superior region over the last several months (including record precipitation for the Great Lakes Basin, April through June)
  • high rates of Superior watershed spring run-off due to high winter precipitation (the article notes an ongoing factor, the lag between precipitation, or lack thereof, and water levels).

Frauhammer touches on climate change but points out that this factor is complex, not a simple, linear factor. For example, she notes that climate is something of a double-edged sword and that:

  • the Great Lakes region has seen a 10% increase in precipitation between 1901 and 2015
  • a warm atmosphere can hold more water, leading to increased precipitation
  • conversely, warm air and water can also lead to increased evaporation, leading to an increased rate of water level decline, as observed during lower water levels in 2013.

So, what is the article’s conclusion… more record highs or rapid declines? The answer is both. According to Kim Frauhammer, expect instability, manifested through erratic year to year swings between highs and lows.

Read the full Washington Post article here.

Projected Lake Superior water levels.
What about the future? The graphic above shows projected water levels through the next 6 months into spring, 2020. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Data Graphic.

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Dec. 5th Presentation: Trekking Superior’s Ice

Many of us who live around Lake Superior have skated on the big lake’s ice. Some of us have hiked the ice to nearby islands, ice caves or points of interest. Still others have travelled even further by ice and distances of over 50 km / 31 mi. have been completed by skiers from around the lake.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 5th, at the Mary J.L. Black Library in Thunder Bay, local historian Bill Skrepichuk will present an account of a much longer trek on Superior’s ice. Bill’s presentation, complete with graphics, outlines the story of over 3000 troops that trekked remote stretches of Superior’s ice in 1885. The troop movement was part of efforts by Canada’s government to move troops westward to the present day Winnipeg area to quell unrest. Various sections of the Canadian Pacific Railway around Superior’s North Shore were incomplete at the time, hence the lengthy treks over the ice, including the following stretches of Lake Superior.

  • Port Munro (just west of Marathon,) to McKellar Harbour (west of Neys Provincial Park)
  • Jackfish Bay (east of Terrace Bay) to Winston Harbour (east of Rossport)
  • Kama (east of Nipigon) to Red Rock.

Bill Skrepichuk’s presentation is extremely well researched and is based upon the book he wrote entitled, “Troop Treks of 1885: Documents and Illustrations.” Hard and soft cover copies of the book will be available at the presentation which is free of charge. Everyone is welcome.

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Blue-Green Algae Documented In Superior’s Canadian Waters – A First?

A picture of Lake Superior surface water some 35 km/21 mi. east of Thunder Bay on September 20th. (Photo:

Green Patches Stretch Offshore

On the evening of September 19th, a boater some 35 km/22 mi. east of Thunder Bay noticed green patches stretching far out into the open waters of the lake. The boater noted water temperature at 15 degrees Celsius or 59 degrees Fahrenheit. The next morning marked the third day of unusually calm conditions on Lake Superior and a kayaker in the same area, noted the same unfamiliar sight: patches of green on the surface of Superior’s waters. 

The kayaker first observed the green patches in a small bay, which area residents refer to as “East Bay.” The green patches continued out into the open waters of Lake Superior to a distance of at least a couple of miles from shore. In the early afternoon of the same day, green patches covered more of this same area. They were also observed in an adjacent small bay, referred to by locals as “North Bay.” By late afternoon, green patche coverage had also increased in the open waters of Superior.

In the late afternoon on September 20th a scum covered the inshore area of “North Bay” to a distance of approximately 50 meters, or 54 yards, from shore. (Photo:

The late afternoon situation in North Bay was intense, with several extensive green patches. Additionally, a surface scum covered the entire inshore area of the bay, out to approximately 50 m/54 yd. from shore. A thick line of dark scum, perhaps a foot in width and less than a foot from the water’s edge, ran along the sand on the bay’s shoreline.

Algae sample collected from Lake Superior on September 20th. Photo taken under the microscope. (Photo:

Testing Confirms Cyanobacteria (Blue-green Algae)

The kayaker collected a sample of the green material which was sent to Lakehead University for identification. Testing determined that the material was dominated by a genus of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) called Dolichiospermum. 

Next, the sample was tested for toxicity. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test showed microcystin toxin levels were lower than the drinking water threshold. In lay terms, test one came back positive for cyanobacteria, test two came back negative for toxicity. 

To the best of Infosuperior’s knowledge, this event is the first documented incident of a cyanobacteria bloom in the Canadian waters of Lake Superior. Government environment and health agencies were notified about the situation.

Algae extended into the open waters of Lake Superior, even into unprotected waters well beyond the island in the distance, which is approximately 2 km. / 1 mi. from shore. (Photo:

Clear Water Returns

The next morning, on September 21st, waters in the area, including East Bay, North Bay and the open lake, were relatively calm and extremely clear. Beach sand was clean and there was no sign of the scum, which had lined the shoreline the previous day.

Material from the surface of Lake Superior – September 20th. (Photo:

Algae Briefly

Algae are simple aquatic plants without roots, stems or leaves and with primitive reproduction methods. Algae ranges in size from microscopic, or microalgae, to macroalgae, large seaweed that can be over 30 m./100 ft. in length. Cyanobacteria fall within the microalgae size. Most microalgae flourish by harvesting sunlight and a few nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen. 

Algae are a natural part of the ecosystem and the foundation of the aquatic food chain. They are primary producers that support fisheries in both inland waters and oceans; however, Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are not generally eaten by other aquatic organisms.

Algae blooms usually occur in late summer or fall. Blooms can occur naturally in the absence of any human influences and are even noted in the journals of early explorers. Alexander MacKenzie noted such an occurrence in the seventeen hundreds on Lake of the Woods; however, today’s large-scale nuisance algae blooms like those experienced on Lake Erie and Lake Winnipeg are not “natural.” Nutrient enrichment from humans contributes significantly to these types of algae growth. Phosphorus and Nitrogen are the primary nutrients contributing to increased blooms, and they can enter waterways in surface runoff from sources such as lawn and agriculture fertilizers, soap, and sewage.

Algae blooms are a complex subject. A bloom can include many species and even variants within species. Cyanobacteria blooms, are of particular concern due to their ability to produce several toxins. These toxins can damage liver tissue and/or the brain and can be lethal to animals, including pets and humans. Cyanobacteria can also cause skin irritation, along with taste and odour issues.

A green patch in the Canadian waters of Lake Superior on a hazy September 20th morning. A sample was collected and examined under the microscope and determined to be blue-green algae. Algae coverage in this area expanded throughout the day. (Photo:

Algae in the U.S. Waters of Superior

Algae blooms in Lake Superior are rare, and until recently, were almost unknown. In the last few years however, algae blooms have been observed in the U.S. waters of Superior. The New York Times link below provides an overview of this situation. Other links provide information about algae blooms in lakes large and small, including Lake Baikal in Russia. Like Superior, Lake Baikal is known for its clear waters and holds an almost spiritual significance to Russians. Due to its extreme depth, Lake Baikal holds more water than all of the Great Lakes combined.

Reporting Blue-green Algae in Ontario

If you observe blue-green algae in Ontario call the Spills Action Centre, 1-866-MOETIPS (6638477), TTY: 1-855-889-5775.

Local Algae Information:

After reporting any suspected algae blooms to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, through the Spills Action Centre, local residents looking for additional information on blooms are encouraged to contact us. Our research team offers a wide range of expertise including phytoplankton identification.

Lake Superior Research Center (contact via – offering educational information on phytoplankton blooms in Northwestern Ontario. 

U.S. Algae Information:

More Photos:

View More Pictures of the September 20th Situation Described in this Article.

After reporting any suspected algae blooms residents looking for additional information on blooms are encouraged to contact us. Our research team offers a wide range of expertise including phytoplankton identification.


August 29, 2018 NYTimes Article: Lake Superior Algae Raises Concerns

June 3, 2019 Infosuperior Article by Nathan Wilson: Classifying Lakes: Eutrophication in the Boreal Forest Ecozone

November 29, 2016 Infosuperior Article: It Could Never Happen Here

Province of Ontario Information About Blue-green Algae

Learn About Research Carried Out By Lakehead University Doctoral Student Nathan Wilson at Cloud Lake Near Thunder Bay

Globe and Mail Article Updated April 3, 2018: Algae and Property Values

September 10th, 2019 Waukesha Patch Article: Invasive Algae Found in Two Wisconsin Lakes

Environment and Climate Change Canada Algae Identification Field Guide

Northern Kentucky University Algae Field Guide

Lake Connectivity: Impacts on Lake Superior

This is the second in a series of articles about eutrophication that have been contributed by Nathan Wilson, a PhD candidate of Lakehead University. The previous article can be found here: Classifying Lakes: Eutrophication in the Boreal Forest Ecozone. It goes over basic terminology for classifying lakes, which is used in the following article that examines how changes in the Lake Superior watershed are impacting Lake Superior itself.

We like to believe that Lake Superior is unaffected by human impacts, especially in comparison to other Great Lakes. Unfortunately, this may not be so true. In fact, Lake Superior has a long history of human impacts from legacy issues like the industrial revolution and the collapse of commercial fisheries, to more recent issues of phytoplankton blooms, high water levels, and reduced ice cover. Some historical, yet often overlooked, human impacts on Lake Superior include the Long Lac and Ogoki diversions and the damming of Lake Nipigon and the Nipigon River to provide more water to the Great Lakes. The subsequent sea lamprey introduction, which contributed to the near-loss of the lake trout fishery in Lake Superior, is a good example of how alterations in one area can have resulting impacts in connected systems. Humans altering the connectivity within Lake Superior, as well as the Great Lakes as a whole, has had significant and long-lasting impacts.

Lake Superior Ability to Buffer Against Impacts Overestimated

In the 1980’s, degraded environmental conditions in Lake Superior led to the establishment of four areas of concern (AOC) – Thunder Bay, Nipigon Bay, Jackfish Bay and Peninsula Harbour, as well as the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie. Today, the historic impacts of direct industrial related degradation to Lake Superior have for the most part been addressed; however, it is no longer possible to restore the ecosystem to its former function in areas like Thunder Bay where ecosystems, such as coastal wetlands within the harbour, were filled in to allow for industrial development. This is a permanent loss of ecosystem function within Lake Superior that was justified due to the assumption that Lake Superior’s vast size gave it the inherent ability to buffer change.  A more recent indication that human impacts continue to afflict Lake Superior would be last year’s (2018) extensive cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) bloom at the Duluth Harbour on the southwest shore of Lake Superior. Because Lake Superior is an oligotrophic lake, with minimal nutrients and productivity, the observation of cyanobacteria, which is normally associated with higher nutrient contributions, was unexpected.  

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake by surface area at 82,000 km2, with an average depth of 147 m and a maximum depth of 406 m, and holds around 12,000km3 of freshwater. It takes approximately 191 years for a drop of water entering Lake Superior today to exit into Lake Huron via the St. Mary’s River at Sault Ste. Marie. Lake Superior’s catchment area, or watershed, is 127,000km2this includes the two diversions, Ogoki and Long Lac, on the north shore. The Lake receives water from about 200 rivers around the basin, the largest of which include the Nipigon River, St. Louis River, White River, Pic River, and Kaministiquia River. Lake Superior is classified as a dimictic oligotrophic lake. It is home to more than 80 different fish species, although it has fewer dissolved nutrients and is less productive when compared to the other Great Lakes. 

We assume the massive size and volume of water in Lake Superior and it’s oligotrophic characteristics buffer the lake from small changes resulting in major impacts, but there is an emerging shift in our understanding of Lake Superior’s sensitivity to change. The scientific community has shown that Lake Superior is warming faster than any other great lake. This is very important as the temperature has major impacts on a number of other ecological and environmental factors such as fish growth and reproduction. Dr. Jay Austin of the Large Lake Observatory in Duluth has shown that Lake Superior is actually very sensitive to small changes. Dr. Austin’s work focuses on the long-term effects of climate change on lakes. Much of his recent work has specifically looked at the variation of ice cover on Lake Superior and seasonal temperature changes. 

Understanding Nutrient Contribution in Lake Superior Important

If Lake Superior is, in fact, more sensitive than previously thought, it is important to re-examine the state of lakes and rivers that feed into Lake Superior. There are a large number of headwater lakes in Lake Superior’s watershed that are connected via rivers to the lake proper. If there is a contamination issue within a headwater lake, eventually that water will be transported to Lake Superior. Although it is a massive lake, we are already seeing signs and symptoms that inland problems are potentially causing problems for Lake Superior. Because of the connection of aquatic systems and the fact that Lake Superior receives and provides water for such a massive area, it is essential that we pay attention and take responsibility for the small inland lakes and water systems that may be at risk.  

This past summer, Ontario’s Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks (OMOECP) reported several cyanobacteria blooms, in lakes within Lake Superior’s watershed. At least one of these blooms was confirmed to be producing cyanotoxins. In 2012 and 2018, on the south shore of Lake Superior, the U.S. waters around Duluth experienced cyanobacteria blooms, something few thought possible. The blooms were the result of significant rain events in the area, described as 500-year rain events by the U.S. National Weather Service. Infosuperior also reported a cyanobacteria bloom in the northern waters of Lake Superior after a rainy fall season this year. As previously discussed in Classifying Lakes: Eutrophication in the Boreal Forest Ecozone, increased precipitation events result in more nutrients from the surrounding catchment area being picked up by surface water and eventually deposited into Lake Superior.

Unfortunately, because cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Superior were not anticipated, there was no equipment in place to record the exact conditions leading up to and during the blooms in Lake Superior’s south shore. Now researchers such as Dr. Robert Sterner from the Large Lakes Observatory along with his Ph.D. student Kaitlyn Reinl are working to understand the land-lake connection and where the bloom cells originate. There have been other reports of nuisance blooms around Lake Superior specifically of didymosphenia geminata (AKA Didymo or rock snot), a diatom that can have significant ecological impacts as it forms dense mats on the bottom of rivers. Didymo blooms can get so bad that they displace fish from the river. 

There are differences around Lake Superior when it comes to the ecological inputs and potential contaminants that are transported from the watershed to the lake. If you have travelled around Lake Superior you may have noticed a significant difference in the abundance of human development between the northern and southern catchment areas. There is very little agricultural development along the northern region of the lake; however, around Duluth and the St. Louis River in the south, the human development, both urban and agricultural, increases. As previously mentioned, human developments are significant sources of anthropogenic eutrophication driving nutrients. It should be noted that although reports of cyanobacteria and other algae blooms appear to be increasing, it is important to acknowledge there is not enough data to verify the cause of the increase. Northwestern Ontario is an understudied region with respect to eutrophication and cyanobacteria blooms and as people become more educated and conscientious about ecological health there is an increasing likelihood that reporting from the public will increase.

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Water Levels a Concern as Fall/Winter Storm Season Begins

Plaques and drift wood had been displaced up to the tree line at Neys Provincial Park this summer. High water levels in Lake Superior and throughout the Great Lakes have resulted in major impacts to lakeshores, which may be the new normal as climate change leads to increased precipitation in the region. Photo: Infosuperior

Great Lakes water levels have been making headlines all year, and October was no different. Wet conditions since September, 2018, have resulted in record high water levels in Lake Superior. Record levels were reached in almost all the Great Lakes this summer. Lake Ontario levels, in particular, led to deviations in the IJC Plan 2014 for the regulation of outflows by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board. These deviations have been maintained throughout the summer. Although Lake Ontario levels have been declining, Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are still experiencing very high levels and those water levels, combined with high winds, led to huge waves and further erosion in October.

The Headlines for October

Damage from Lake Superior was particularly bad in Duluth and Thunder Bay, catching the attention of various news outlets. MPRNews’s Paul Huttner reported that wind gusting up to 68 mph / 109 km/hr on Oct 21, 2019, lead to flooding and damage to parts of the Lakewalk in Duluth, MN; however, the newly constructed section of the Lakewalk held-up well according to Duluth News Tribune’s coverage by Andee Erickson. Despite the damages sustained, residents interviewed by Kare11 news appeared to be keeping their heads up and Star Tribune even posted images of surfers taking advantage of the waves. The same day, 45 mph / 74 km/hr winds and 35-40 mm / 1.4-1.6 in. of rain in Thunder Bay lead to flooding and erosion that resulted in the closure of a popular boardwalk and trail at Mission Marsh, as reported by the CBC.

In Chicago, damage from Lake Michigan is expected to require billions of dollars in prevention and repair efforts according to an article by Jay Koziarz of Vox Media Curbed: Chicago. Travelling towards Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac, further damages were apparent. MLive’s Emily Bingham reported on October 24, 2019 that a local tour guide had noticed that the foundation of the Waugoshance Lighthouse had begun to erode. The historic lighthouse’s foundation is in danger of complete collapse if mitigation isn’t attempted. Lake Huron also caused thousands of dollars in damages to sidewalks and other public spaces along Alpena’s lakefront with waves up to 7 feet tall according to Alpena News’s Steve Schulwitz.

Officials Responding to Impacts

In response to the extensive damage that has been observed across the Great Lakes this summer, the IJC’s Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee with the IJC’s  International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) and the International Lake Superior Board of Control (ILSBC) are reaching out to landowners and businesses that have been directly impacted. They are asking those affected to fill out a survey and/or provide images documenting how high water levels have impacted them: Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Shoreline Landowners and Businesses 2019 High Water Impacts Questionnaire.

In a news release on October 30, 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced that they would expedite the permit process required for any alterations on shoreline property. Officials hope to cut permitting times from several months down to days, where there is imminent danger to structures, Michael Kransz reports for MLive. A new webpage was also created to help property owners with the permitting process and provide a centralized area for high water level information:

Water Levels Resource Links:

Government of Canada – Great Lakes Water Levels and Related Data

Government of Ontario – Flood Forecasting and Warning Program

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Great Lakes Information

International Joint Commission Boards, Studies and Committee

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board

International Lake Superior Board of Control

International Niagara Board of Control

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Relocated Caribou Show Positive Signs

Caribou tracks were observed on all of the beaches visited on Lake Superior’s Caribou Island. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

A group from the Wawa area has a positive report regarding status of caribou relocated to a Lake Superior island. 

Six caribou, 4 females and two males, were relocated from Michipicoten Island to Caribou Island in February and March of 2018. The transfer was part of efforts to ensure survival of the Lake Superior caribou population after wolves decimated their numbers. This decimation resulted after ice bridges in 2014 enabled wolves to reach Michipicoten Island and also the Slate Islands. The caribou on these islands were considered the anchor populations for the Lake Superior range.

Michipicoten Island is located on Lake Superior some 13 km/8 mi. offshore in the Wawa, Ontario area. Caribou Island is located due south of Michipicoten Island, 72 km/44 mi. north of the Michigan mainland and 60 km/37 mi. south of the Canadian mainland (not to be confused with the much smaller Caribou Island near Thunder Bay, Ontario). The Slate Islands are located some 12 km/ 7 mi. offshore from Terrace Bay, Ontario.

This photo helps to display the size of some of the caribou tracks. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Visiting Caribou Island by Boat – Calves, Tracks and Trails

In August this summer, a small group from the Wawa area visited Caribou Island by boat to ascertain the status of the relocated animals. The group landed at four different points on Caribou Island’s shoreline, purposely refraining from visiting the interior of the island so as not to disturb the caribou.

The group did not see caribou but did see many signs including:

• caribou scat

• caribou tracks on all beaches visited

• calf tracks

• a caribou trail

Some tracks were clearly from calves. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Group members reported that some of the tracks were clearly from calves, indicating that at least one bull survived and that there was breeding during the past year. Group members also reported excellent lichen coverage in areas near the shore and in trees. Lichen is the primary food source for caribou.

Considerable lichen, a caribou food source, was observed near the Caribou Island shoreline. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Leo Lepiano of Wawa, who was one of the group members visiting the island, said that information gained through the use of radio collars made it clear that four females were alive. He added at least one bull and one calf, for a count of at least six animals. He said the maximum number of caribou likely did not exceed fourteen.

A caribou trail was clearly visible at one island location. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

Caribou Island – A Base for Population Expansion

Leo said the animals on Caribou Island might be looking for a new home in future, if their population “outgrows” the island. He cited Michipicoten Island, 47 km due northward from Caribou as one such potential new home. He pointed out that Michipicoten Island would have to be wolf free before this could take place and that a couple of wolves were still on Michipicoten. Leo maintained that re-establishing a population on Michipicoten could be a pre-cursor to re-establishing the population in other Lake Superior coastal areas. Caribou were very prevalent on and around Lake Superior until the late eighteen hundreds.

Signs of caribou were observed in several shoreline areas. (Photo: Leo Lepiano)

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Wisconsin DNR Releases Draft Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan

Lake Superior Fisheries management work on the Hack Noyes Research Vessel. (Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Flikr: Fisheries Management album)

Draft Fisheries Management Plan 2020–2029 available for public comment

Last month the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources presented their Draft Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan 2020–2029. It was developed through Advisory Panel Meetings from the initial stakeholder meeting on June 26, 2017, through to the final Advisory Panel Meeting on March 5, 2018. The Outline was released for public comment until July 20, 2018. The Draft Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan 2020–2029 is available for public comment until Oct 20, 2019.

Visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources webpage to review and comment on the new Draft Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan 2020-2029

Previous management plan directed management from 1988 to 1998

Fisheries in Lake Superior have come a long way from damage due to industrial development, invasive species and poor management. The last management plan was established for 1988 to 1998 and it did a lot to improve the status of Lake Superior fisheries, but the emphasis in that plan was to achieve “optimum sustained harvest.” The 1988–1998 plan sought to ensure self-sustaining fish stocks, understand the economic value of these stocks, protect fish habitats, control sea lamprey and increase public fishing boat access.

New management plan accounts for improving technology and changing perspectives

Today we have a better understanding of fish habitat management thanks to scientific and technological advancement. As a result the Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan was due for an update. The Draft 2020–2029 plan is more comprehensive and its goals are more focused on protection over harvest. The goals were laid out as follows in a presentation that can be viewed on the Wisconsin DNR webpage:

  1. Protect habitat
  2. Enhance diversity, sustainability and viability of state and tribal sport, commercial and subsistence fishing
  3. Enhance science and monitoring
  4. Maximize resiliency
  5. Maintain social value

[PDF] Draft Lake Superior Fisheries Management Plan

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Lake Superior Water Levels Set New Record

In a Nutshell:

  • lake levels are better than 30 cm/ 1 ft. higher than this time last year
  • 8 cm/ 3.14 in. above the previous record set in 1986
  • record levels are expected to be sustained through July, August and September.

Lake Superior water levels are at a new record high. At the beginning of June, Lake Superior was 8 cm/3.14 in. above the previous record, set in 1986. Early June levels were 41 cm/16.14 in. above the long-term average between the years 1918 and 2018. New data for all of June, 2019 was not available at time of writing this article, but in May, 2019 the lake rose 13 cm/5.11 in. The lake normally rises 10 cm/3.9 in. each May.

At 1:20 P.M. on June 20th, Lake Superior’s water level stood at 183.91 m/603.40 ft., as measured at Duluth, Minnesota by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One year earlier the average water level for June, 2018 was 183.56 m/602.23 ft. This represents a year-to-year water level rise of 35 cm/13.77 in.

Precipitation was near average in the Lake Superior watershed in May but despite this, water supply to the basin was above average from high winter precipitation and runoff.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Data.

Record High Levels All Summer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts Lake Superior water levels will continue to rise over the next three months, reaching a peak in August. Record high levels are expected for July, August and September.

How Water Levels are Measured

Several water level gauges around Lake Superior are used to determine water levels. The gauges are maintained by the National Ocean Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S, and by the Canadian Hydrographic Service in Canada.

Water levels are measured in relation to elevation reference points, or benchmarks, around the Great Lakes. Based on these benchmarks, a single level surface is adopted as “chart datum” for a given lake, including Superior. In more technical terms, chart datum is referred to as “International Great Lakes Datum.” These elevation points are selected so that the water level for each lake will seldom fall below them. Only rarely will there be less depth available than what is portrayed on a nautical chart, or map.

Regulating Lake Superior Outflow

The International Lake Superior Board of Control is responsible for regulating the outflow of Lake Superior and managing the control works on the St. Marys River. The board points out that:

The ability to regulate the outflow from Lake Superior does not mean that full control of lake levels is possible. This is because the major factors affecting the water supply to the Great Lakes—over-lake precipitation, evaporation, and runoff—cannot be controlled; nor can they be accurately predicted in the long term. (

Data for this article was accessed from the following sources:


Telephone Numbers for Lake Superior water levels/daily fluctuations at Canadian Guages:

  • Thunder Bay – (807) 344-3141
  • Rossport – (807) 824-2250
  • Michipicoten – (705) 856-0077
  • Gros Cap – (705) 779-2052.

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Red Rock Wastewater Treatment Plant Construction Underway

Construction of a new wastewater treatment plant for the Town of Red Rock began on May 1st. (Photo:

Former Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan chair Dave Nuttal said it. More recently, former Red Rock Indian Band Chief Ed Wawia said the same thing ­­— construction of an upgraded municipal wastewater treatment plant, for the Town of Red Rock, was a “must do” proposition. The two agreed on one other point as well; construction of the new plant would directly benefit water quality in Lake Superior’s Nipigon Bay.

As for the community where the new plant will be built, Mayor Gary Nelson says, “For the Township of Red Rock, this investment will ensure our community complies with current provincial water quality regulations and new federal rules that come into effect in 2030. A new reliable wastewater system will ensure the township can accommodate future growth and draw more businesses to the area.”

The Town of Red Rock is located on Nipigon Bay, the most northerly portion of Lake Superior. (Map courtesy

Both Ontario and Canada Contributing Funds

Construction of the new plant started on May 1st. Aegus Construction of Thunder Bay is the contractor.

The Government of Ontario is contributing more than $17 million, or two-thirds of the total project cost, while the Government of Canada is contributing over $8.5 million under the New Building Canada Fund – National and Regional Projects.

The municipality of Nipigon, located on the largest river flowing into the Great Lakes, the Nipigon, completed a wastewater treatment plant upgrade in 2009. (Photo:

Like Thunder Bay, Jackfish Bay, and Peninsula Harbour in Canada, as well as Duluth-Superior Harbour in Minnesota/Wisconsin and Torch Lake in Michigan, Nipigon Bay is one of several Great Lakes environmental “Areas of Concern” (AOCs). These are specific locations where Remedial Action Plans, or cleanup plans, are making substantial progress to address environmental issues like pollution, degraded water quality and aquatic habitat.

Significant progress has been made to improve water quality in Nipigon Bay. Construction of a new wastewater treatment plant for the Town of Nipigon was completed in 2009. In this June 15, 2009 Infosuperior file photo, taken as funding was announced for Nipigon’s plant, Town of Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey is joined by Nipigon Bay RAP Public Advisory Committee Chair Dave Crawford, Public Advisory Committee member Betty Brill and Provincial Member of Parliament Michael Gravelle. (Photo:

Nipigon Bay is one of the four AOCs covered by the North Shore of Lake Superior Remedial Action Plans (RAP). Nipigon Bay was designated as an Area of Concern in 1987 primarily as a result of impacts related to:

  • upstream hydroelectric dams
  • the accumulation of wood fibre, bark, and other organic matter from historic log drives
  • effluent inputs from municipal and industrial sources.

You can find information about RAP progress in Nipigon Bay by visiting

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Op-ed | The Future of the Lake Superior Caribou

This op-ed was authored by the following individuals: Gord Eason, Dr. Brian McLaren, Dr. Serge Couturier, Dr. Christian Schroeder, Marcel Pellegrini, Aaron Bumstead, and Leo Lepiano.

There are likely fewer than 20 caribou left on the North Shore, about 15 on the Slate Islands, and no more than 10 on Caribou Island. On March 28th, the Province of Ontario held a workshop on the future of the Lake Superior caribou. During the meeting, attendees raised some concerns over conflicts between caribou management and other uses of the mainland north of Lake Superior.

The three main concerns were that protecting caribou on the mainland would harm forestry, reduce moose harvest, and restrict access to the land. The following is our response to these concerns.

Caribou and Forestry

The best way to keep caribou in the area over the long term is to connect the isolated Lake Superior range to the continuous distribution of caribou to the north. Movement between these areas would augment the populations and provide genetic diversity. Recent genetic work has confirmed that there are still animals dispersing between the ranges, even with so few caribou left along Lake Superior.

Caribou ranges in Ontario. – Photo from MNRF State of the Woodland Caribou Resource Report 2014

Concern was expressed that provincial policy requires permanent forest corridors connecting the caribou ranges, which decreases the total allowable harvest in a forest management unit. This problem of permanently deferred corridors could be solved simply by having temporary corridors. These corridors would change location as the habitat changes and would not reduce the harvest area over time.

But there are larger problems with forestry in the region. While there is no shortage of wood to cut around Lake Superior, almost all of the harvest demand is for mature conifer, and those stands are heavily targeted. Hardwoods and mixed woods are often left unharvested. Coupled with decades of inadequate conifer regeneration, the forest is moving further and further from the amount of mature conifer that was present in the pre-industrial forest.

Both the forest industry and caribou require mature conifer. As the amount of mature conifer declines, all of the remaining mature conifer stands and therefore all of the caribou habitat is on the cutting block. Solving this problem would benefit the economy of the region, as well as the caribou.

Restoring the mature conifer component of the original forest is a long-term effort, but it would eventually provide a steadier and higher supply of mature conifer to mills and avoid a boom-bust cycle. It would also provide a significant and consistent amount of caribou habitat. In the short term it will be necessary to keep mature conifer habitat in the rugged areas along the Lake Superior shore where the last few of the caribou still persist. But that leaves most of the conifer, which is back from the Lake, to be managed for wood supply.

The Importance of Moose

Moose are important for food, recreation, economic benefits and cultural practices. These benefits will not disappear from the region as a result of prudent caribou conservation efforts. However, moose are under threat from unregulated hunting, as well as climate change. Moose start to go into thermal stress at temperatures of about 14C. Warmer summers with increased periods of extreme heat are likely to result in a significant decline of moose over the coming decades, should we fail to avoid the worst of climate change. In that case woodland caribou offer potential benefits. Caribou do not show signs of thermal stress until 35C. Island populations could be managed with controlled First Nation hunts, and caribou could replace declining moose numbers on the mainland.

We also heard it suggested that the reduction in moose numbers as a caribou conservation tactic is a violation of Treaty rights. When the treaties were signed, moose were not abundant in the area, if present at all, whereas woodland caribou were the main cervid. Elsewhere in Canada, First Nations have threatened to sue the government over the extirpation of caribou, because their absence on the landscape means they can no longer be hunted by either current or future generations.

Predator-Prey Dynamics

Changes in the regions forests have led to an increase in moose populations over the last century. The earliest record of a moose encountered in the Chapleau area is from 1898, and where moose were present north of Superior, their densities would have been very low. Woodland caribou, on the other hand, extended as far south as Manitoulin Island and the French river in the late 19th century.

This image was taken at the Hudson’s Bay post on the Michipicoten River near Wawa in the late 19th century. It is a fascinating photo for many reasons, but note the caribou antlers above the door on the building to the right. – Photo from found by Johanna Rowe of Wawa

By increasing moose in the region in recent times, we’ve increased the amount of prey available to predators like wolves and bears. The increase in wolf populations is further exacerbated by all of the linear features on the landscape, which make it easier for wolves to move far distances, increasing their chances of encountering prey. Caribou, which are smaller and less productive than moose, cannot maintain themselves against this increased predation, and are eventually extirpated.

Land Access

Restricting forest access for caribou conservation is based on the idea that the fewer linear features on the landscape, the more difficult it is for wolves to find prey. We heard concerns that closing roads and trails for caribou conservation seriously reduced access for activities like fishing, hunting, trapping, and berry picking.

While some roads may need to be closed in areas where there are known to be caribou, widespread road closures are not necessary. There may also be good reasons to keep access, particularly where we would benefit from having trappers removing wolves.

Conclusion We believe that managing caribou well results in good land management. Losing caribou along the Lake Superior shore, where it is technically feasible to keep them, means we have chosen not to manage our forests for ecological sustainability. It also means we are willing to disregard our endangered species legislation. Such a choice also means we are not managing the forest for economic sustainability. By not maintaining and regenerating caribou habitat, we are not maintaining and regenerating our wood supply either. By shying away from difficult conversations about forest access, unregulated moose hunting, and climate change, we are doing a further disservice to all of us, including those yet to be born


Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF). 2014. State of the Woodland Caribou Resource Report. Species at
Risk Branch, Thunder Bay, Ontario. + 156 pp.

Infosuperior provides an open source for dialogue. The views expressed in submitted essays and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of Infosuperior.

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