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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes' water levels rise
Canadian Press


TORONTO (CP) -- Last summer, cottager Mark Daugherty had to give up canoeing in one of his favourite spots because Lake Erie's water levels were too low. This summer, he's preparing to paddle through those areas easily.

"Last year there were sections that I used to be able to canoe through that just got too shallow," said Daugherty, 43, whose family has had the same cottage in Erieau, Ont., for the past 39 years. "This year it shouldn't be a problem."

After three years of enduring bone-dry conditions, dragging their hulls along the bottom of lakes or not leaving harbours at all, cottagers and boaters in southern Ontario can expect some relief this Victoria Day weekend -- Environment Canada says the Great Lakes have risen to more normal levels.

And the better news is that the water levels, which Environment Canada says are a result of an unusually rainy spring, should remain as high as they are until at least the end of the summer.

"It's quite a bit up from last year -- more than we anticipated," said Ralph Moulton, manager of Environment Canada's water level information office in Burlington, Ont.

"For this summer, it looks like the situation will be better than it was last year."

Lakes Michigan and Huron, which have seen particularly low levels since 1998, are still 35 centimetres lower than average, but have risen 25 centimetres from this time last year.

Lake Ontario, on the other hand, rose 25 centimetres from last year and is now about 20 centimetres above normal.

Moulton credited higher-than-normal precipitation for the rise in the fresh-water lakes. Since September 2001, the Great Lakes basin has seen 19 per cent more precipitation than usual.

But John Birnbaum, executive director of the Georgian Bay Association, warned the rise is just "short term."

"The modest increases this year are modest. It's certainly a relief but in our view it's short term," said Birnbaum, whose association represents more than 4,400 families on the eastern and northern shores of Georgian Bay.

"The decreases that we've experienced over the past few years have been substantial. Consequently, there's still a long way to go."

Birnbaum said his association, which is an umbrella organization of 23 other associations, plans to lobby various levels of government to become more involved in protecting the lakes and their water levels.

"We think it's time for the government to pay attention to global warming," he said.

Environment Canada's Moulton said climate change is believed to be forcing lake levels down. This past winter was the warmest on record in southern Ontario, where temperatures between December and February were 4.8C above average.

It's also feared that lakes Michigan and Huron, considered to be the most at risk, may drop by as much as 100 centimetres over the next 20 to 40 years.

But David Barnier, president of the Ontario Marine Operators Association, said he's relieved even with the modest increases this year.

"Last year, people didn't put their boats in the water because the levels were so low," said Barnier, whose association represents about 500 members. "The levels right now are quite livable for marine operators."

Shippers were forced last year to lighten their loads to accommodate the dropping lake levels. For every two centimetres the lakes went down, shippers had to drop about 100 tonnes. This year, freighters transporting heavy materials across the lakes can expect to carry more goods.

"Almost no one is complaining about water levels this year," Barnier added.

The remaining lakes also saw improvements, with Lake Erie rising 20 centimetres back to its normal level. Lake St. Clair rose 20 centimetres, remaining 12 centimetres below average, while Lake Superior grew four centimetres, remaining 11 centimetres below average.

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