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Great Lakes Article:

Low water levels are creating waves
By Shawn Giilck
The Enterprise-Bulletin (MI)
Published December 21, 2007

The mayor of The Blue Mountains says the ripple effects of dropping lake levels are beginning to hit the town hard. Ellen Anderson attended a conference with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in Racine, Wisconsin last week.

As one of the Initiative's directors, she's now calling on the federal government to give Ontario municipalities more of a voice in addressing problems with the lakes.

Anderson listed a series of signs pointing to heightened problems as Georgian Bay water levels take a plunge. This is the first year that the town has had to store boats on the west side of the Thornbury marina, Anderson said. The lower water levels meant that large sail boats couldn't get close enough to the east shore to be taken out of the harbour.

The municipal water intake is now in approximately 22-to-24 feet of water, rather than the 28 feet it was to start with. Under optimum conditions, the intake should be located in at least 30 feet of water.

If the water level drops another two feet, Anderson said the town will likely be forced to extend the water intake further into the bay, at an estimated cost of $5 million.

That's in addition to obvious problems such as recreational pastimes on the bay and the nearby Beaver River, Anderson said, quoting from a report written by the town's recreation director Shawn Everitt.

The river, a prime fishing and paddling attraction, was down 50-to-65 per cent this summer, she said, prompting the Grey-Sauble Conservation Authority to issue a warning.

Anderson called the situation the first signs of a "regional drought", which is a manifestation of climate change.

Yet another indication of the dropping lake levels in Georgian Bay is the appearance of an island off North Winds Beach, Anderson said. Until approximately three years ago, the island had been a shoal.

In coming years, there will be more problems with beach contamination, Anderson said, noting that could affect tourism, although The Blue Mountains had no closures this year.

Anderson was joined in a conference call by Gerry Becker, the mayor of Racine, Michigan, and the chair of the Initiative.

The Initiative includes 51 member cities. Thirty-one are Canadian municipalities.

As the conference in Racine wrapped up last week, the members issued a press release with a series of demands to both American and Canadian officials.

"The mayors urged presidential candidates to support the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, the agreement through which the Great Lakes states and provinces cooperatively manage the waters of the Great Lakes, and to support legislation to implement the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy," a news release from the organization read. "The strategy, developed in 2005 through the work of 1,500 Great Lakes stakeholders, is a comprehensive blueprint for restoring and protecting the resource and requires federal support and funding for implementation."

Each candidate will be sent a questionnaire that will outline their position on Great lakes issues.

Lobbying will also begin with the American congress to implement the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, particularly with respect to ballast water controls and water infrastructure funding. In Canada, the mayors will push for an expanded role for municipalities in renegotiating the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin (COA) and the St. Lawrence River.

"As mayors we've done a great deal to raise awareness," Anderson said. "We know however that our work is just not done. We're at a crossroads on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. We can continue plugging away and making small progress on an agenda that was cutting edge in the late 1980s or we can show leadership and bring about transformative change on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence to make it the most desirable area in North America to live.

"This challenge is about leadership," she said, adding Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis, a member of the federal cabinet, will be solicited for support.

The Initiative is calling for a 15-per-cent improvement in water conservation measures from municipalities by 2016, she said.


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