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Great Lakes Article:

Mild winter could spell even lower levels on the Great Lakes
The Daily Telegram

In much of our region and around the Great Lakes as a whole, this season is turning out to be another relatively mild and dry winter. Thatís bad news for the local and regional economies that depend on tourism; itís also bad news for the many residents who love snow and relish the outdoor activities. Itís also bad news for that majestic treasure outside our doors, Lake Superior, and for all the Great Lakes.

After falling to their lowest water levels in 35 years in 2001, there was improvement last year when levels of all the Lakes except Superior rose some, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And yet they remained below normal. Now, the Corps is reporting the water levels are dropping again because of months of dry conditions. Lake Superior and Lake St. Clair are down 2 inches, Erie is down 1 inch, Lake Ontario 8 inches and Huron and Michigan are both down 7 inches compared with a year ago. The declining lake levels, like the lack of snow, also has an economic impact, in part because freighters have to carry lighter loads and pleasure boats face more risk of damage.

The dry weather leads to evaporation, although ice forming on the Lakes has slowed that process. So there is some good news. The experts say that evaporation can mean a decline in lake levels of 1 to 2 inches a week during fall and winter, with water thatís warmer than the air. We can only hope that the next couple of months will bring lots of snow because the best relief for falling water levels is heavy snow and rain.

Other news has been much more positive for the Great Lakes. The U.S. Senate has wisely extended the current ban on new oil and gas drilling under the Lakes for another two years. The measure is specifically meant to keep Michigan from giving a green light to more directional drilling from the stateís shoreline. The Great Lakes states do not allow drilling from rigs on the Lakes, and so far only Michigan has permitted directional drilling. The Senate measure still needs House approval and must be signed into law.

Oil and gas industry officials say directional drilling is safe; it poses little environmental risk. But the recent oil spill in the Nemadji River shows that such accidents can happen even to pipeline companies like Enbridge Energy Partners that take care to prevent them. Drilling under the Great Lakes would be foolish, risky and unnecessary, and ought to be permanently banned.

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