Lake Huron water levels on the rise, should match 2010

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—With the busy summer season approaching and with boaters and campers watching closely the changing water levels of Lake Huron and the North Channel, many people are breathing a collective sigh of relief as the water is slowly starting to rise and is almost at par with last year’s levels.

According to last Thursday’s numbers from Environment Canada’s Burlington office, Lake Huron was 38 centimeters below its average level for this time of year (that’s based on 110 years of data), three centimeters lower than it was the same time last year and 11 centimeters above chart datum—the numbers shown on navigational charts.

This is good news, said Stan Ferguson proprietor of Little Current’s Harbor Vue Marina and president of the North Channel Marine Tourism Association.

“It’s the same thing everywhere,” said Mr. Ferguson, “everyone’s watching but cautiously optimistic.”

“Isn’t it strange that here we are worried about water levels being so low, but lots of people are having the exact opposite problem?” he mused, referring to our neighbours to the south and west and their current struggles with the flooding of the mighty Mississippi and the impact the rising Assiniboine River could have had on the city of Brandon, Manitoba.

While this spring was worrisome, Mr. Ferguson said, “I think we’ll reach last year’s water levels.”

He noted that this spring was colder than usual, with the lake ice taking longer than usual to melt. “I think we also tend to forget how farspread the watershed that feeds Lake Huron is,” he added, saying that the spring run off continues right through to June.

“I think we’re going to be okay,” Mr. Ferguson added.

Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson think so too as last month, the town had some discussion on the possibility of having to move some of Spider Bay seasonal residents—those with a large draught—to one of the piers on the downtown docks.

In speaking with Mr. Williamson last Thursday, he was pleased to announce that, for the time-being, this was no longer an issue as water levels in the municipal marina had risen enough to accommodate even the larger vessels.

Chuck Southam of Environment Canada said that last month, Lake Huron was 1/2 metre below average and explained that it would require a very wet summer to see levels rise above last July’s numbers. “It looks like we’ll remain below average.”

“We were on our way back up in 2008, then we lost it again,” Mr. Southam noted. “We haven’t reached the low of the 1960s, but we’ve been pretty close. I can’t say whether this has been one of the regular ups and down, we’d need much more data.”

“We’re not doing as well as I’d like,” he added, saying he was keeping his fingers crossed for a soggy long weekend (his wish was partially granted). “I would love to see more of that weather we had in the beginning of May.”

Mr. Southam noted that last May, Lake Huron saw very little “seasonal rise,” but June brought rain, pushing that number back up again.

“The key thing is to try and remember the whole range, there’s nothing sacred about these levels,” he added.

The Expositor caught up with White’s Point resident Jim Strong on Sunday evening, just after his nightly “patrol.” From his view at the furthermost tip of the point, he said “It doesn’t look to bad at present—it seems pretty close to last year.”

Too little too late, perhaps, as many residents of White’s Point, over half a dozen, Mr. Strong estimated, suffered from frozen water lines at some point over the past winter season.

“If the water goes down any further, we’ll all be in trouble,” he said. “We’re a mixture of people who go away from the winter, summer residents and those who stay. There were people importing water on a fairly regular basis.”

“This is an ecological issue,” Mr. Strong added.

Mike Wilton of Algonquin Eco Watch noted that water levels are like gasoline prices, rising and falling and getting people worked up in the process.

“The heavy rains will bring the levels back up, but there’s been so much dredging in the St. Clair River, making the river profile bigger and deeper,” he said, adding that the water from Lakes Huron and Michigan leaves the basin that much faster. “Chicago’s going to keep taking our water. If we get a drought, they get a drought, but if they get a drought, they want more water. When we need it the most, they need it the most and they’ll just take it.”

“It’s hard to get Canadians off of their butts to do something,” Mr. Wilton lamented. “If we could just get the ball rolling…”