Lake level push 'appalling'
By Chip Martin
London Free Press
Published November 16, 2007
Their thirsty states and cities are eyeing the water in the Great Lakes, their coast guard conducted machine-gun firing tests on the lakes and now the Americans want to put so-called speed bumps in the St. Clair River.
The speed bumps, or flow inhibitors, would slow the flow of the river to raise the levels of lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior.
But Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley calls the notion "appalling."
"The idea of adding a flow inhibitor at this time, not based on science or engineering, but on politics, is appalling," Bradley wrote in a letter to International Joint Commission officials.
Senators from seven states have urged the IJC to slow the St. Clair, which they say is draining Lake Huron too quickly. They point to a Canadian study that suggested erosion and dredging of the waterway is responsible for flushing extra water down the St. Clair "drain."
The senators from states bordering the upper Great Lakes are concerned about record or near-record low water levels and are demanding fast action. They are unwilling to await the outcome of a $17.5-million bi-national study of upper Great Lakes water levels that the IJC has commissioned, due in 2009.
The senators, along with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revive plans from the past to install river bottom flow inhibitors such as concrete weirs to slow the flow of the 50-kilometre-long St. Clair.
Granholm and others are urging "a quick fix . . . to address low water levels that are hurting shippers, boaters and wildlife," the Detroit Free Press reported recently.
Their politicking has Bradley seeing red. He said this week such a knee-jerk reaction to low water levels is wrong.
Bradley fired off a letter to David Miller, mayor of Toronto and Canadian chairperson of the binational Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, urging everyone to await the outcome of the IJC-commissioned study that is underway. His concern was copied to Herb Gray, chairperson of the Canadian section of the IJC.
Bradley closely monitors American plans for the lakes. He raised a fuss about the U.S. Coast Guard practice-firing machine-guns as part of anti-terrorist training, an exercise that was terminated. Now he is urging U.S. politicians to await the 2009 release of the scientific study.
"The message is simple," said Bradley. "Let science dictate, not the political fix that is suggested."
At the IJC, Ted Yuzyk, a hydrologist who is co-director of that study, is aware of pressure from American politicians.
"There is a tremendous amount of public and political pressure," he conceded, all triggered by low water levels in the upper Lakes.
Yuzyk said preliminary evidence seems to have debunked a hypothesis from a $250,000 engineering study funded by Georgian Bay property owners that suggested erosion caused by dredging has enhanced the river's flow by as much as two per cent.
"The (Sarnia) mayor's got it perfectly right," Yuzyk said. "Let's give the study time to look at the results."
He noted the IJC can't do anything without a mandate from the American and Canadian governments.
Over the years, the boundary river has been dredged and after the last time, plans were approved to install water-slowing underwater devices outside the shipping lanes to compensate for the dredging. But a high water cycle and concern about the cost-benefits ratio scotched those plans, he said.
Critics of the speed bump plan warn when high water levels return flow inhibitors will only exacerbate high levels, creating more problems than they solve.
THE ST. CLAIR RIVER
- Described as fast-flowing river with many rapids by explorers as far back as the 1600s.
- Dredged to 6.4 metres in 1920.
- Dredged to 7.6 metres in 1933.
- Dredged to 8.2 metres in 1960.
- Plans to impede water flow to compensate for dredging were developed in the 1970s, but later abandoned.
To learn about the latest study of Upper Great Lakes levels commissioned by the International Joint Commission (IJC), visit the study website at www.iugls.org