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Great Lakes Article:

Dropping lake levels raise concerns
Of all the Great Lakes, only Ontario's waters have been high enough not to interfere with boating or shipping. The year in review.
By Peter Geigen-Miller
London Ontario Free Press
Published December 26, 2005


Water levels on all but one of the Great Lakes are below long-term average -- and there's concern they could fall to lows last seen in 2003.

Optimism that levels were rebounding and would be higher than a year ago by year's end has given way to worry the opposite may happen.

"I'm a bit concerned that unless we have some wet weather going into the spring, we could see water levels similar to 2003," says Chuck Southam, a water resources engineer with Environment Canada.

That would put levels well below average and create another summer of hazards for recreational boaters and limit load-carrying capacity of Great Lakes shipping.

"Right now I'm sitting on a bit of pins and needles and watching the seasonal decline, hoping it it is not much bigger than average and hoping we'll see some recovery in spring," says Southam.

The reason for the drop in levels is a long, hot summer that reduced the rainfall needed to replenish the lakes.

A stormy November was an exception, the first month run-off in the Lake Huron basin was above average, says Southam.

A recent bulletin put levels on all but Lake Ontario below long-term average and all but Ontario below their levels of a year ago.

Lake levels vary with the seasons, rising with spring run-off and declining in the fall.

This year levels on Lake Huron peaked about June 24, a bit earlier than usual, says Southam.

"So far this year, they've gone down about 34 centimetres, a seasonal decline a bit bigger than normal."

Low water levels are not bad news for everyone.

"Cottagers like lower levels because they have that much more beach in front of their cottages," says Geoff Peach of the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation.

Lower levels also mean less risk of property damage seen over the past two or three decades when Lake Huron was higher than average, says Peach. "During that period, if you were a cottager along the lakeshore, you probably had quite a few instances when you were wondering if you'd have a cottage the next summer."

Among those who prefer higher levels are marina operators, boaters and shippers.

Lower levels increase the risk of boats hitting shoals and other obstructions. Marina operators may have to dredge to provide enough water at their docks.

Lower levels also force ships to carry less cargo so they can negotiate the lakes and connecting channels, says Peach.

The levels picture is less dire on Lake Erie, which is a bit below average, says Southam.

"It is most likely to be a bit below average going into 2006 but it's in a bit better shape than Huron (and) Michigan."

LAKES

Huron

- 23 cm lower than 2004

- 48 cm below long-term average.

St. Clair

- 10 cm lower than 2004

- 23 cm below long-term average

Erie

- 15 cm lower than 2004

- 10 cm below long-term average

- Same as 2004

- 2.5 cm above long-term average

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