Editorial: The Great Lakes basin deserves better from the IJC

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As a community newspaper serving several communities nestled along the shoreline of Lake Huron, water levels are always of great interest to many of our readers and we do our best to keep the people we serve well-informed on the subject.

This year we were treated to the spectacle of a flock of Canada geese swimming over the Little Current docks to feast on the flowers adorning the gardens across the street outside Bousquet’s Real Estate offices and the Northeast Town had to install a raised platform at the docks by Wally’s Dock Service for the gas pumps serving maritime visitors.

As the late Great Lakes Commodore Barney Turner was wont to quip when one of The Expositor’s reporters approached him each year to acquire his counsel on the high/low water levels, “the water goes up and the water goes down—and it is always a big deal.”

But for those residents whose homes are threatened by high water levels this year the matter takes on a decidedly less-than-humorous taint. For those whose livelihoods are inextricably linked to the health of the fishery in the waters surrounding the Island, water levels should also be of great concern considering the threat to wetland spawning those high levels cause as well as the nurturing role those wetlands play in protecting tiny spawn from the predations of larger creatures.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waterway presented a challenge to both the US and Canadian governments, being as how those waters form much of the boundary between our two nations. To that end, our two nations wisely set up the International Joint Commission (IJC) with the goal of finding mutually acceptable management practices for these shared water systems.

Sadly, much of that wisdom seems to have faded under the weight of commercial and political considerations as the IJC has been largely unresponsive and opaque to the people it serves, given the experience of those whose passion leads them to the largely thankless task of watching over and attempting to influence the IJC’s practices for the public weal.

The stonewalling of government agencies on all sides of the border when approached for information has long been an issue with which The Expositor, along with other media agencies, is all too familiar. Many strides have been attempted to loosen the hold over information wielded by government bureaucrats whose first instincts are to deny, and to deny until the questioner gives up and goes home. It is a strategy that all too often works all too well.

Thankfully, there are those whose passion surmounts such obstacles and whose persistence approaches nothing short of legendary. 

The issues behind high and low water levels may be complex, but what is not complex is the damage and anxiety caused to those whose homes are invaded by water levels that are increasingly unpredictable or who must invest huge sums of money to build new water systems to accommodate low levels.

What is also not complex is the frustration felt when those charged with overseeing our water management efforts refuse to provide the information or rationale for the decisions that impact our properties, lives and livelihoods. High or low water levels may be unavoidable, but how are we to know?

It is long past time that the IJC stops playing politics with our water and come clean as to how and why they are making the decisions that have such a negative impact on so many people living on the shores of the Great Lakes. 

If what must be, must be, fine. But tell us the truth—don’t hide behind bureaucratic stonewalling and obfuscation; we the people demand better.