Great Lakes losing 2.5 billion gallons per day

Oct. 4, 2007
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, recently released research 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 in August (GBA) show that...

• Due to manmade drain hole near Detroit; New research finds St. Clair River draining water from Lakes Huron, Michigan at triple rate originally thought; Lakes Huron, Michigan predicted to drop another 10 inches by January, according to U.S. Army Corps

PARIS, ON, Canada, Oct. 2, 2007 -- 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, recently released research 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 in August (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 the river.

Those billions of gallons of 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. And just this week the U.S. Army Corps predicted that Lakes Michigan/Huron will be 10 inches lower by January than at the same time this year, which could mean a record low for the lakes if the winter results in minimal ice cover.

"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.

"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 water loss."

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.

"We're getting killed," said James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers Association. "We're giving up 8,000 tons of freight on ships traveling from the Duluth-Superior area to the lower Great Lakes -- that's enough steel to make 600 vehicles."

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.

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 correctly fairly easily and within a relatively short timetable.

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