winter threatens Great Lakes' water level
(Wednesday, January 9, 2002) -- The majority of the Great
Lakes' water levels rose in the past year -- a sign to
researchers that a 35-year low period could be reversing.
a warmer than normal winter, which leads to more lake
water evaporation, could mean lower levels down the road,
said Roger Gauthier, hydrologist with the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers in Detroit.
modest improvements we were seeing are at risk because
of how mild the winter is," Gauthier said.
Ontario is currently at an average level, in large part
because its level is controlled by the St. Lawrence Seaway.
never want to speak too soon about whether things are
going well for the interest of land owners," said Greece
resident Henry S. Stewart, president of the Lake Ontario
South Shore Council. "But at the present time it looks
like ... the levels are reasonable."
lake levels are good for land owners because the conditions
reveal more beach front, which can also protect their
property from storms. But low levels are bad for marinas
and the shipping industry, which need higher water to
navigate and store boats.
more study needs to be done on the impact of lower lake
levels on animal and plant life, said Joseph C. Makarewicz,
biological sciences professor at the State University
College at Brockport. But Makarewicz said less water can
lead to wetlands moving or dying out -- which might have
an impact on fish and bird populations.
of the Great Lakes are above last year's level, with Superior
being the highest at 10.8 inches over.
a warmer than normal winter has kept ice from forming
on the lakes -- which means water continues to escape
said Lake Ontario, currently at 45 degrees, is nowhere
near the freezing point. And temperatures here in November
were 6.4 degrees above normal; in Detroit, temperatures
were 7.4 degrees above normal.
seven feet of snow that Buffalo received in late December
is largely attributed to the amount of unfrozen lake water
that helped generate the lake effect storms.
said researchers won't know until at least mid-March what
the impact on lake levels will be. By then, most winter
storms will have run their course, and the amount of water
taken through evaporation and brought back from water
run-off will be known.
if ice cover remains sparse, and lake water is not replaced
with water from outside storm systems, the gains the lakes
are experiencing now could be erased, Gauthier said. Lake
Michigan and Lake Huron are still 14.4 inches below the
long-term average; Superior is 3.6 inches below. And the
Army Corps of Engineers predicts that Lake Superior, for
example, is expected to decline three inches by the end
Lake Ontario retains the status quo -- exactly meeting
the long-term average.
resiliency is attributed to its level being controlled
by the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control,
which regulates how much water is let out of the lake
and into the St. Lawrence Seaway.
have actually been favorable enough that the river board
has allowed 1.2 inches of water to be stored on Lake Ontario
in case of a drought situation. The control is good news
for Lake Ontario users, bad news for users down the St.
Lawrence, such as the Port of Montreal, where officials
have asked for more water to be let out of the lake.
Fay, senior water resources engineer with Environment
Canada in Cornwall, Ontario, said it's predicted that
Lake Ontario will be at average levels again in June,
when the lake normally hits its highest level.
complaining about the lake levels has done something wrong
according to calculating the 100-year average," said Frank
Sciremammano, a Rochester Institute of Technology professor
and member of the International St. Lawrence River Board
of Control. "We're right at the average. We don't know
why. But we could get blasted (with more snow) yet.