Georgian Bay Forever has high hopes for IJC outcome

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

GEORGIAN BAY—An official with the Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) group agrees with a representative of the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council (MASC) that with the pressure put on by area residents in opposition to a ‘do nothing’ approach to decreasing water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan recommended by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board (IUGLSB) will change and that something positive will take place.

“Our IJC (International Joint Commission) public hearing in Little Current was a great success with several hundred people voicing their concerns, and meetings held in areas in the Parry Sound area after ours were also very successful,” said Therese Trainor, secretary of MASC, last week. “I’m optimistic something is going to happen, it may not be everything we want, but the worst case scenario is that they do nothing.”

Ms. Trainor pointed out David Sweetnam, executive director of Georgian Bay Forever, was in attendance at the IJC hearing in Little Current.

Mr. Sweetnam, when contacted by the Recorder last Friday, said “we had a public hearing in Tuesday in Collingwood with between 250-300 people there. It was pretty unanimous at this meeting and hearings held in Parry Sound and Midland (last week) that everyone is in opposition to the do nothing approach, and that something has to be done with the water levels having decreased.”

“Absolutely, attention needs to be paid on the issue, to improve the water flows to Lakes Huron and Michigan, and the diversion of outflows to these lakes through St. Clair and to Lake Erie, and dredging, including house dredging and mining work, has been a big factor in the decrease in water levels,” said Mr. Sweetnam. “A study carried out determined that after all the scarring in the St. Clair River, it meant the channel was larger, meaning there was the same amount of flows but lower heights of water in the lakes, and in turn, lower water levels, especially when it is being diverted through the St. Clair River. And with climate changes it has put more pressure on the water system, but still the study board recommended to do nothing with Lakes Huron and Michigan.”

“I think the seventh recommendation in the commission’s report to do nothing needs to be taken off the table; there has to be a multi-lake solution, for instance, balance the high highs in areas like eastern Michigan and balance the low lows in Huron-Michigan,” continued Mr. Sweetnam. “Hundreds of scientists and engineers have studied the situation and have done a lot of work in finding options to balance things out for everyone, and the commission needs to take the time and read this information.”

“We have seen and read about a lot of excellent science that could address the problems, and then suddenly these recommendations come from out of the blue in the study report. For instance, that a multi-lake system could not take place because it would be too expensive to look at, or barriers that would level off outflows that would productively address the water levels, and therefore direct the impacts to many facets of the lake.”

“A logical approach needs to be taken to try and solve the problems and the IJC members heard that message at the public hearings,” said Mr. Sweetnam. “In 2004 we paid for a report that was done that showed that instead of only looking at the St. Mary’s River for compensating work, we gave them options and information that justified adding the St. Clair River into the study.”

Ms. Trainor said that along with the success of the IJC hearing on Manitoulin, in Parry Sound a similar hearing meeting saw between 250-300 people in attendance and Midland had over 600 people in attendance. “The same message was given loud and clear at all these meetings that something needs to be done to stop the water levels decreasing, and there needs to be options looked at to increasing water levels in Lake Huron-Michigan.”

“Our fingers are crossed. I’m optimistic the IJC will bring forward the concerns and the IUGLSB will do something positive,” said Mr. Sweetnam.

“Timing is everything at our hearing, and obviously from other meetings with residents of Georgian Bay, everyone feels the same way that something needs to be done, and a do nothing approach is not acceptable,” said Ms. Trainor. “The biggest winning point we have is that the change in the balance of water was never approved—it was illegal—and the IUGLSB has legal authority and the right to respond to these concerns, which were human made.”

A ruling by the commission is anticipated to take place late this fall or early winter.