Anglers and recreational boaters were warned in late fall of dangerously reduced water levels in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior, with a likelihood of all three falling to record lows in early 2013.
Michigan and Huron were 11 inches lower than the year before and 2 feet, 4 inches lower than their long-term averages for October. Superior was at its 1925 record-low average for that month.
Mostly, the decline is blamed on a mild winter with little snow followed by a hot summer with little rain, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, a hydrologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We are seeing much lower water levels than we had last year, and that is the case all over the Great Lakes,” he said.
But more and more, attention is turning to what man has been done to alter the water levels and what might be done in the way of mitigation. For example, reversing the Chicago River in 1900 so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it resulted in a loss of about 2.1 billion gallons a day, which has dropped the long-term average for both Michigan and Huron by two inches.
Key focus, though, is on the St. Clair River, which has been heavily dredged, allowing more water to flow out of Huron and into Erie and, from there, eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists generally believe this alteration has resulted in a drop of the long-term average for Huron and Michigan by about 16 inches. But a recent joint study by the U.S. and Canada suggests that erosion in the St. Clair might have reduced the long-term average for those two lakes by an additional 3 to 5 inches.
That has prompted a coalition of mayors from 90 cities around the Great Lakes to ask the International Joint Commission, which advises on boundary water issues, to further investigate engineering options to raise lake levels in order “to compensate for human activities, notably dredging in the St. Clair River . . .”
Another group, Save Our Shoreline, wants a mechanism to control water flow in the St. Clair.
“Given the history of consistent water level reductions since 1855, the unmitigated and unplanned increase in conveyance in the St. Clair River since 1962, and the uncertainties presented by climate change, we believe it would be irresponsible not to begin the process toward a regulatory structure now,” it said.
Water levels on the Great Lakes typically fluctuate by inches seasonally and by as much as several feet over a period of years. But, until now, anglers, marina operators, and lakefront property owners felt secure in believing that water levels wouldn’t drop below the 1964 record lows.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)