Water levels rise, but for how long?
By Robert Montgomery
Published Nov. 2004
CHICAGO, Ill. — Heavy rains last fall and again this
spring have helped the Great lakes rebound from near-record
lows, improving conditions for fish, wildlife and recreational
Overall, the lakes are now up a foot from the 45-year
low recorded last year, reversing a six-year, 3-foot drop
that left shallow cover — and some marinas — high and
dry. Additionally, the low water hampered transportation
for a system that sustains more commercial shipping than
the Panama and Suez canals combined. And the drought lessened
available supply for the 45 million people who depend
on the Great Lakes for their water.
Yet, the future does not look especially bright for the
Great Lakes. Following several mild winters that increased
evaporation rates and reduced snow pack, levels rose appreciably
with a precipitation in May that scientists call a "once-in-a-century"
"That's what's worrisome," said hydrologist
Cynthia Sellinger of the National Oceanic Atmospheric
"What made the lakes rise this year was we had an
extremely wet fall and a wet May. What usually gives us
a good rise in the lake is ice cover to prevent evaporation
in winter, and then a nice snow pack melting in the spring
Ice covering the lakes now seems to have turned into
a rare event, added Joel Brammeier of the Lake Michigan
"In the long term, no one's quite sure what the
implications for global climate change are for the Great
Lakes," he said, suggesting that change prompted
by global warming just might be now at work on the world's
largest freshwater system.