These are indeed unprecedented and challenging times. Our entire news media are focused almost exclusively on the COVID-19 outbreak. We hope everyone is well and following all the rules.
While all this is going on, water levels on the Bay remain at “extreme crisis” high levels – a condition where the IJC recommended in 1993 that the two federal governments should have already deployed measures to mitigate the damage. Worse than ignoring their own recommendations, the IJC’s International Lake Superior Control Board is releasing excess water off of Lake Superior, whose levels are nowhere as far above long-term average as those of Michigan/Huron/Georgian Bay. Our water level is now about 14 inches above that of this time last year, but Superior’s is at the same level as this time last year. Where is the equity in that?
Below is the US Army Corps of Engineers’ graph showing current predictions.
While the levels keep going up, we have been assessing what might be causing this to happen – simply because no government agency is looking into it. Please take a look at the past few years of lake levels (from NOAA’s GLERL dashboard below) and you will notice that, for the past three years, the levels of Michigan/Huron – the second from the top graph – have not declined in the fall like the others. This fact is extremely strange since the weather on all the Great Lakes has been similar. As Dr. Rob Nairn pointed out at our November Science Symposium, this phenomenon points to a problem in the upper St. Clair River – decreased conveyance capacity. The water simply cannot get off the middle lakes but can leave the other lakes. The cause? Whereas 15 years ago the Baird Report found that erosion in the St. Clair River was increasing the outflow from Lake Huron – a factor contributing to the sustained low water levels in Michigan/Huron/Georgian Bay from 1999 to 2013 – now the exact opposite has happened.
The two photos below, 2014 and 2019, from a Google Earth time series, show the change in the increased amount of sand moving into the St. Clair River.
This increased sand supply may have filled in the deep areas that were just north of the Bluewater Bridge and reduced the size of the outflow at that critical spot. We have 2012 bathymetry measurements for this part of the river, and the USACE has 2018 data, which it has promised to share with us in order to reinforce this analysis.
The bottom line is that no government agency is “minding the store” here. All the other Great Lakes have, under the IJC, Control Boards that monitor and measure the connecting channels’ flow on an HOURLY basis and set monthly discharge amounts. There is nothing in place to monitor or control the outflow from this huge body of water – Lakes Michigan Huron and Georgian Bay. We have long been advocating for flexible control measures at the mouth of the St. Clair River that would not in any way exacerbate high flow conditions such as we now have. And we need a single Control Board for all the Great Lakes that manages the mainly finite water with respect and equity for all parts of the Great Lakes
Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation is currently working with Restore Our Water International (Roger Gauthier, Chair) to bring attention to this inexcusable shortcoming, but it is a challenge during the COVID 19 crisis. We are also connecting with a strong US Lake Ontario shoreline organization which has a Washington D.C. law firm. That well-financed organization has managed to spark US and Canadian attention so that the IJC is allowing very high levels of discharges from Lake Ontario in order to lower its levels. The State of New York is also suing the IJC for gross negligence in their management of Lake Ontario levels..
We recently issued a press release with some of the US organizations that can be found here.
Our question: Why are our government agencies not showing any evidence of even caring about the devastation that will happen this summer to Georgian Bay shorelines? Witness all the broken docks that will have washed up on shorelines around the Bay (e.g., the marina at Thornbury, whose docks are strewn on shorelines up to 2 km away). Georgian Bay wetlands are now very tightly compressed up against granite bedrock and into shoreline vegetation including dead trees. That means there will be little safe habitat for the small fish, turtles, snakes and shorebirds. Even if and when levels decline it will take a decade for the aquatic life to recover. The dying vegetation will release nutrients and bacteria into nearshore waters, resulting in deterioration of shoreline water quality. Septic systems in many locations around the Bay may be flooded such that they will have to be drained and alternative temporary holding tanks put in place. But are there enough licensed septic system installers or holding tanks to deal with this looming crisis?
Why does Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation seem to be the only organization that understands this issue? Because we alone have been working with skilled hydraulic engineers and with McMaster University’s Professor Pat Chow-Fraser for since 2003. This involves complex science. We are still working on explaining it to Georgian Bayer’s, for if ever there was a time that the Georgian Bay community should be speaking out loudly in unison, it is now.
Please donate to GBGLF through the Huronia Community Foundation charity so that we can continue to support Pat Chow-Fraser’s important research and so that we can get to meetings around the Great Lakes to demand action by governments and their agencies, including the IJC. As soon as the COVID 19 crisis is over, we also need to renew our engagement with the Washington law firm that previously arranged our meetings with elected officials and their agencies. There, Mary Muter and Roger Gauthier, with their wealth of knowledge and experience, can educate them and stimulate needed government action.
To meet the immediate need of $50,000 for effective work by GBGLF, and to receive a tax receipt, please donate generously as follows:
PREFER TO DONATE BY MAIL? HERE’S HOW…
Please make out your cheque to Huronia Community Foundation and mark in the notation line
“for Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation“
and mail it to:
Huronia Community Foundation, P.O. Box 324, Midland, Ontario, L4R 4L1
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To ensure that we credit the right fund, ask that donations be directed to:
Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation Fund
Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation is an Ontario registered not-for-profit
affiliated with the federally-registered charity, Huronia Community Foundation