Water is life, and the Great Lakes are the largest fresh water ecosystem on the planet. Water levels set the water available for the life of 40 million people, 3,500 species of plants and animals, and the regional economy of about $5 trillion dollars. They impact drinking water, irrigation, industry, commercial navigation, hydro power, recreational boating, and the ecosystem where wetlands sustain the aquatic species. Extreme water levels are the problem. High water levels cause flooding, shoreline erosion, and houses built on high bluffs toppling into the water. High water levels can also negatively impact the growth of suitable wetland plants for fish nursery and habitat. Low water levels can cripple shipping, reduce hydro generation, stop boating activity, disrupt drinking water, cause wetlands to dry up, fish, turtles and birds to die-off, invasive plants to take over the shoreline and harmful algae to develop in isolated bays.

Humans have been interfering since 1850. Navigational channels were deepened to 20 feet, then to 25 feet and finally to 27 feet. This triggered erosion of the St. Clair River causing even more deepening. Lake Michigan-Huron dropped by 20 inches. The story of why the United States, and Canadian governments, the International Joint Commission (IJC), the US Army Corps of Engineers have collectively so far failed to provide compensation structures for this past dredging is complicated. Mary Muter of the Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation has more than anyone else pursed a solution to this challenge – a solution that involves hydraulic modeling, wetland research, and government lobbying. At times huge steps forward have been made. There have also been colossal setbacks. A solution has been designed – a set of flexible airplane-wing-like hydraulic structures placed in the Upper St. Clair River. They would hold back water in extreme low supply conditions and lie flat in order to have no impact in extremely high water conditions. To mitigate extremely high water levels, governments would need to regulate the flow of water into Lake Superior and the flow through the St. Marys River. There would also need to be a single Control Board for all of the Great Lakes that would regulate water distribution in an equitable way throughout the system. Currently, the middle lakes, which are uncontrolled, are unfairly treated. Persuading governments to act remains a challenge.

Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation has been focused on water levels and wetlands. We have broadened our focus to include Water Quality, in particular significant concerns over water quality from increased nutrient concentration leading to blue-green algal blooms

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To find out more detail, you can read the rest of the article in this section and also the full story in Water-Levels- A Middle Great Lakes Dilema, on this site.