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Great Lakes Article:

Monday, July 29, 2002

Lake St. Clair deserves more recognition

By Peter Geigen-Miller, Free Press Reporter

 Poor little Lake St. Clair. The body of water some call the sixth Great Lake is the Rodney Dangerfield of natural attractions in Southwestern Ontario.

Like the put-upon comedian, the lake has had a hard time getting any respect.

While tens of millions of dollars are being poured into rescue projects for the five Great Lakes and the rivers that drain into them or connect them, Lake St. Clair has been pretty much ignored.

Too bad, because this is a resource worth helping.

At only about 42 kilometres long, 38 kilometres wide and an average of three metres deep, the lake is a blip compared to its five Great Lakes cousins.

But size hardly measures importance.

This is one of the best walleye and muskie fisheries in the world.

It yields an astonishing 1.5 million fish of various varieties a year, a third of the total for the Great Lakes.

The lake is a vital stop for migrating waterfowl.

It provides drinking water for five million people and floats tens of thousands of recreational boats, whose owners pump tens of millions of dollars into local economies on both sides of the border.

Up to 3,000 commercial vessels pass through its waters each year.

Finally, the lake is gaining overdue recognition of its attributes.

An impressive collection of agencies on both sides of the border is developing a management plan for the lake and the St. Clair River.

While the project is being headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Great Lakes Commission, a binational agency, there's plenty of Canadian participation.

Players on the Canadian side include the federal and Ontario governments and the Walpole Island First Nation.

In the London region, there are the the Upper Thames, Lower Thames and St. Clair area conservation authorities.

The authorities are involved because the rivers they oversee, the Thames and the Sydenham, drain into the lake.

Yes, when you pull the plug in a London bath tub, the water gurgling down the drain ends up in the lake.

There's no question Lake St. Clair's problems are serious.

It's beaches are frequently posted because of E. coli contamination, its shoreline is rimmed by intensive and intrusive suburban development, it has been invaded by alien species including the zebra mussel, its wetlands and vital shoreline habitat have been destroyed by development, water pollution from industries, sewage overflows, leaking septic tanks, fertilizer and pesticide runoff from farms and lawns have harmed water quality.

Much thought is being given to these problems and technical working groups will be assembled this fall to work on the content of a management plan to tackle them.

"We have to decide what we need to do for the lake, what goals we have to establish," says Matt Doss, project manager at the Great Lakes Commission.

A draft plan should be completed by early winter and the document will be reviewed at a state of lake conference in late winter.

The final plan will follow.

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