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2013 Inaugural Project: Historically Low Water Levels

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In January 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reported that Lake Michigan-Huron experienced their lowest water levels since the Corps began tracking monthly measurements in 1918. The following is the initial post that covered this issue and CGLR’s intended response. 

March 2013 shows Lake Michigan-Huron have recovered slightly to 1.6 inches above record March lows, but remain 2.2 feet below the 1918-2012 March average.

The other Great Lakes, while faring better, are also well below historic March averages: Lake Superior by 1.05 feet, Lake Erie by 6 inches, and Lake Ontario 4.9 inches. Lake Michigan-Huron, Erie, and Ontario were all 1.22-1.45 feet below March 2012 levels. On the St. Lawrence River, Montreal Harbor measured a staggering 2.69 feet below historical average and 3.64 feet below March 2012 levels.

This is an alarming development for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region. Wetlands crucial to volatile Great Lakes ecosystems are in danger of drying up. Beyond ecological harm, decreasing Great Lakes water levels threaten the region’s critical industries, including manufacturing, shipping, fishing, agriculture, infrastructure and harbor operations, water supplies, hydroelectric generation, and the recreational sector.

Mitigating these effects will entail comprehensive longer-term planning, supported by detailed evidence. CGLR, in partnership with the Mowat Centre, is undertaking a region-wide economic impact assessment of the Great Lakes’ lowered water levels on the sectors noted above. This project will provide a critical complement to the recent work of the International Joint Commission (IJC), and these outputs will enable the US and Canadian governments, along with their state/provincial partners, to choose the path forward in a principled, evidence-based manner.