Low Water Levels – Political Action
By Bob Duncanson
What a difference a year (or two) makes! Two years ago at this time Georgian Bay had record low water levels and many people with water access cottages were worried they would not be able to reach their cottages. Then we had two years of above-average rain and snowfall and cooler than average temperatures. This year, the forecast is that water levels in Georgian Bay will be the highest in 15 years.
So does this mean that we don’t need to worry about water levels anymore? Not at all. Georgian Bay, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are joined together and are really all one big lake. In an area this big, there are no quick fixes. Two years ago, we urged governments to begin the process to address low water levels through actions in the St. Clair River and beyond. That process involves identifying the appropriate measures to hold back some water in times of high water so that water levels don’t fall to crisis levels when we have drier years again. Our message is the same now – the time to take action to protect against low water levels in the future is when water levels are high. The process of planning to deal with water levels is a long-term process, and there may be cycles of high and low water in the meantime. But we are told the general trend because of global warming will put more pressure on water levels, so we are continuing to call for action.
Cost of Doing Nothing
The cost of persistent and historic low water in the Great Lakes, and specifically in the Middle Great Lakes, is starting to become apparent. This cost was not adequately assessed in the International Upper Great Lakes Study that was issued last year.
- Water based land owners will face difficulty in accessing their property. Many will face significant expense to relocate, repair or rebuild docks and/or boathouses in order to gain access. Property values will be reduced due to inaccessibility.
- Smaller navigation channels will become unusable for boat traffic requiring expensive blasting operations.
- Water quality will diminish as natural flushing of bays and inlets is reduced.
- Marina operators will be hard pressed to serve the needs of their customers to launch and moor boats. Many will need to blast or dredge their harbours, which is very costly, time consuming and requires regulatory approvals. For some, this will bring their financial viability into question.
- The Great Lakes shipping industry is already dealing with low water levels by reducing ship load capacities which translates into increased costs and loss of business.
- Manufacturing and processing industries, including mills, will need to look for alternatives to get their products to market. As shipping is the most cost effective way to move many of these products the cost of products will rise.
- Shoreline municipalities face increased costs to draw water from the Middle Lakes, cost to rebuild and maintain shoreline infrastructure and lost revenues from tourism. The Georgian Bay Mayors have estimated their direct costs for 2013 to be $20 million and have estimated the cost to tourism to be in the $50 – $100 million per year range.
GBA will work with Georgian Bay Forever over the next few months to conduct a more thorough Economic Impact Assessment.
But there is no need to wait for this Assessment to write politicians to ask for action.
Message to Our Elected Officials
With the above cost of doing nothing as background, our message to our elected officials is as follows;
- We need to get a lot better at managing our water resources than we have been.
- Climate Change will continue to put unprecedented pressure on our water.
- Precipitation patterns will see more “once in a century downpours” interspersed with prolonged droughts.
- We need to prepare our infrastructure to deal with these downpours and hold back or “bank” water when it is available.
- Much as farmers need to build retention ponds to address their irrigation needs over the long term, Canada and the US need the means to retain/bank water in each of the Great Lakes during wetter periods to soften the downward pressures that will happen during periods of drought.
- Control mechanism in connecting channels such as the St. Clair River and/or the Niagara River will likely be necessary.
- This will put the Middle Great Lakes on equal footing with Lakes Ontario and Superior that already have control mechanisms.
- Any control of levels in Huron/Michigan will need to be done with regard to impacts upstream and down. To this end, we agree with the Study Board’s recommendation to establish a pan Great Lakes Water Quantity Board to monitor water levels and advise government.
We ask that the Government of Canada petition the US Government to agree to task the IJC or the Great Lakes Executive Committee to fast track a study of the options for controlling water levels in Middle Great Lakes and specifically Lake Huron/Michigan.
Note to US Citizens
US residents who own land on Georgian Bay and/or share our concern with the impact of low water levels and want government action should write to their elected officials along the lines suggested above.
Here are two links that will help you identify who you should contact;