Georgian Bay advocate nixes dike proposal

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—Members of the water sub-committee of the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council concerned with falling Lake Huron water levels have their backs up with two proposed recommendations from the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board (IUGLSB) that arose after meetings such as the one in Kagawong this summer.

According to Mary Muter, chair of the Great lakes Section of the Sierra Club of Ontario, the study board has recommended the diking of wetlands in Georgian Bay (Ms. Muter considers the North Channel as part of Georgian Bay) as well as the relocation of marinas at the expense of the proprietors.

“The study board has agreed that the impact of low water levels has been big, especially for Georgian Bay wetlands and Canadian co-chair (Ted Yuzyk) said one of the strategies is diking wetlands while dikes on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair have recently been removed,” Ms. Muter noted.

Diking would entail the creation of a clay wall around a wetland area, flood it and pump water into it. “This is great for ducks, but not for fish,” she said.

Ms. Muter explained that before the study began, the study chairs were invited for a tour of “high and dry wetlands.” She said she was told that the group should be advised of the top 10 most important wetlands in Georgian Bay so dikes could be created and the pumping could begin.

The Sierra chair said she explained to the group that fish would not survive in these conditions as they could not escape. “We’ll build a fish ladder,” she said they responded.

“These fish don’t swim up ladders—they aren’t pickerel or salmon,” Ms. Muter said she replied, noting that when the water freezes up, the fish would die. To her shock and amusement, the chairs replied that they would have the fish removed before the lakes froze over.
“There are thousands of wetlands in Georgian Bay and these wetlands need fluctuations of water levels to maintain diversity,” Ms. Muter said.

“We need to start to let the world know that this is not a solution for Georgian Bay,” she wrote in an email to the Manitoulin group. “I have also learned that the new regulation plan for the St. Mary’s River controls that the IUGLSB is recommending will help to reduce low levels on Lake Superior. That means that the Lake Huron-Michigan/Georgian Bay levels will drop even lower. That should be unacceptable under any standards, but that is what they are recommending as of now.”

Mike Wilton, a water committee member, was contacted at his home in Dominion Bay and noted his worry over lobby groups that have grown from the movement, urging the IUGLSB and IJC to keep water levels as they are. Mr. Wilton points to a Michigan-based group that feels any rise in water levels could jeopardize the safety of Michigan’s nuclear power plants.

“Surely American engineers have brains enough to not have designed something so faulty,” he said.

Mr. Wilton thinks the study board is not addressing the problem of low water levels at all with such recommendations. “That’s just crap—that the kind of response I would expect from the United States Navy Corps of Engineers,” he said. “It’s out of this world—not realistic at all.”

“They’re trying to lull people into a sense of security so that people will become complacent and not worry about it,” he added. “I’m also surprised that marina operators are not screaming bloody murder.”

“We’re certainly not going to leave much of a legacy for our kids if we don’t something now,” Mr. Wilton said.

Dave Williamson, Northeast Town CAO, was contacted in regards to the recommendation of relocating marinas as his municipality oversees both Spider Bay Marina and the town docks in Little Current. “It would really seem to be treating a symptom, not the cause,” he said. “It would make more sense to commit the focus to finding a solution to the problem.” Mr. Williamson noted that the cost of moving all of the infrastructure involved with a marina would be “enormous.” “The infrastructure beside the water is not the issue, the levels are the issue,” he reiterated.