PARIS, ONTARIO, Canada, Aug. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Two years
after specialists first linked declining water levels in Lakes Michigan and
Huron to U.S. and Canadian navigation dredging, riverbed mining and
shoreline alteration projects near Port Huron and Sarnia, research released
Tuesday finds that the river "drain hole" is sucking away triple the amount
of water previously estimated--causing widespread ecological harm
throughout the middle Great Lakes.
The updated findings released by the Georgian Bay Association (GBA)
show that the drain hole in the St. Clair River is causing the
Michigan-Huron system to hemorrhage 2.5 billion gallons of water a
day--more than triple the 845 million gallons documented two years ago by a
consulting firm studying the impact of the U.S. Army Corps's dredging in
Those billions of gallons of lake water lost down the drain each
day--more water than what's used by all Chicagoland households in a
day--translate to rapidly declining water levels, which negatively affect
water quality, boating, fishing, and commercial shipping.
"This new report reveals that the problem is far more serious than
first thought and underscores the need to fix the problem immediately,"
said Mary Muter, local Georgian Baykeeper for the national Waterkeeper
Alliance and Chair of GBA's Environment Committee. "The longer we wait for
mitigation measures to be put in place, the worse it will get. It's time to
stand up for the millions of boaters, shippers, anglers, property owners,
and beach-goers who rely on these lakes and stop the water loss now. We
can't afford to wait."
"The historic changes and dredging of the St. Clair River over the
years has resulted in changes to the riverbed that has increased the amount
of water going down the river, carrying more and more water out of Michigan
and Huron, through the lower Lakes, and out to the ocean. This water is
irreplaceable," explains Roger Gauthier, Lead Hydrologist for the Great
Lakes Commission. "It has reached a point where the damage is profound. It
is now threatening the hydrological integrity of the entire upper Lakes."
Since 1970, the drainage hole, which continues to grow larger, has
resulted in an overall water level decline of nearly two feet, or 60
centimeters, in Lakes Michigan and Huron and Georgian Bay. If put together
in one place, that two foot loss would be the size of a block of water one
mile high and four miles long by four miles wide.
"We're seeing drastic sustained decline in the Michigan-Huron system at
the same time that Lake Erie is rising," said Bill Bialkowski, the Engineer
who conducted the new GBA research. "This is indicative of water loss
independent of naturally occurring fluctuations or those due to global
warming. Research is showing us that this is a persistent, unprecedented
These alarming findings come as the International Joint Commission
(IJC) prepares to begin its Upper Great Lakes Study, which will examine the
St. Clair drain hole and other possible causes to the water level crisis.
The study has met with some criticism and controversy among advocates, as
it is being led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environment Canada,
which are failing to acknowledge the danger of the situation.
IJC studies of this nature often take more than six years, which
advocates and scientists insist is too long to wait. According to
engineers, Lakes Huron and Michigan will lose another 12 centimeters, or
about four inches, if the water loss is allowed to continue for more than
"Water level deficits over the past two seasons have had major negative
effects in the shipping industry," said William Hryb, general manager,
Lakehead Shipping Company Limited. "Additional trips by vessels because of
lighter payloads lead to higher production costs. This is an enormous
economic burden few ship owners and operators can afford."
The new GBA research uses water level data from the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Association's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab that
extends through February 2007--data that was not available when the
original Baird Report was released. According to the original 2005 Baird
Report, the rapid water loss is due to a number of factors, with bottom
erosion of the St. Clair River being the major factor. Much of this erosion
is a consequence of navigation dredging conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers that took place in the river during the 1960s. The Corps designed
structures to remediate anticipated adverse impacts of this dredging at
that time, but the project was never completed.
Environmental warning signs including dried up wetlands, less fish
spawning, and unusually shallow waterways have begun to surface in Lakes
Huron and Michigan as well, leading many to fear for the overall health of
the region. There are several factors that have converged to cause low
water levels in the Middle Great Lakes, but the erosion in the St. Clair
River stands out among these problems as a man-made issue that can be
corrected fairly easily and within a relatively short timetable.
"Great Lakes water is far too precious to squander away through an
increasing hole in the channel," said Joel Brammeier, associate director of
the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "With lake levels nearing record lows,
all hands on deck should be focused on plugging a gap we've known about for
SOURCE Georgian Bay Association