Low water draws hundreds to Island IJC hearing – Manitoulin firmly rejects ‘do nothing’ option

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—With an estimated 300 individuals in attendance and 35 registered presenters, the six-member International Joint Commission (IJC) heard a variety of testimonies and recommended options last Sunday when they met in Little Current for one of 13 public hearings scheduled for comments on the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board’s (IUGLSB) report on the future of Lakes Huron and Michigan as their water levels drop ever lower.

The purpose of the hearings is to receive public comment on the findings of the IUGLSB report, “Lake Superior Regulation: Addressing uncertainty in Upper Great Lakes water levels,” that was conducted by a study board and released March 2012. The comments and recommendations from Upper Great Lakes jurisdictions in both Canada and the US are sought prior to the IJC accepting or rejecting the study and its recommendations.”

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was the first to address the IJC, and she stressed the importance of the health of the Great Lakes to the region, and to Manitoulin’s economy specifically.

“You are meeting today on issues of great importance,” began Ms. Hughes. “Water levels in the Great Lakes are an important issue, especially for the upper lakes, Superior, Huron and Michigan. The loss of water in those bodies is disconcerting as we see volume dropping year after year. This is not the time to claim that expenses cannot be afforded. We need the benefit of the best science that seeks solutions to the problem with a view to the long-term well-being of our Great Lakes, first and foremost. In Ontario, Great Lakes commercial fisheries are an ongoing part of our economy and our heritage. In this case, nothing can be taken for granted and the cost must be considered across all Great Lakes with a goal of protecting the economies of all the communities that make up their basins.”

Ms. Hughes concluded her speech by paying homage to the area groups that work so diligently towards maintaining and improving the health of the Great Lakes.

“The work of groups like the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, the Manitoulin Streams Association and of so many other groups and communities around the lake is bound together by the IJC,” concluded Ms. Hughes. “This body of work is integral to our efforts to keep the lakes famous for all the right reasons.”

Therese Trainor, secretary of the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, also addressed the IJC, but was short and direct in her statement. “After teaching for 25 years, I have learned that the most effective way to get your point across is simple and short,” Ms. Trainor later told The Expositor.

“Each day, over 200 million gallons of water pours out (of Lake Huron),” Ms. Trainor said in addressing the IJC. “Some of this water is natural outflow, but the balance is illegal—the result of human error. It is good news that the Study Board and this commission recognize that there is a problem, but nothing has been done yet. The amount of water that is being diverted is much more than anticipated and this is an illegal divergent. Water is one of our four sacred gifts, and we would be remiss if we let it slip away.”

Leslie Fields, a resident of Manitowaning, retired teacher and community activist, explained to the commission that she has spent years working with families across the world addressing the need for safe drinking water in her volunteer role with the organization Sleeping Children Around the World.

“I tried very hard to read the Study Board report with an open mind,” stated Ms. Fields, “but I could not get past recommendation number seven, that no further study should be conducted at this time. We need our Great Lakes—over 40 million people depend on them and in the last 20 years I have seen the lake slipping away. I urge you to focus on what will help and remind you that what we do now will effect the next seven generations. We are in a crisis mode and doing nothing is not an option.”

Madeline Poynter from the south shore of Manitoulin also expressed to the IJC disappointment with the Study Board’s recommendations.

“There is no recommendation for increasing levels, nothing about decreasing water flow—we are losing important fish habitat and our tourism is being greatly affected,” said Ms. Poynter, adding that many of her neighbours had chosen not to attend the hearing because of their pessimism about the process combined with their resignation that the interests of the southern Great Lakes region will inevitably take precedence over the interests of the North.

“You dredged the St. Clair River, and the experts said that since the water was so high there was no need to put in the recommended rubble and weirs (to slow down the Lake Huron outflow), but here we are a decade later,” said Jim Griffin of Sunsite Estates during his testimony. “All I’m saying is at the very least you should correct the man-made problem in the St. Clair.”

Paul Moffat, the deputy reeve of Assiginack, spoke on behalf of his community, stating that he represented the 200 residents of Assiginack that depend on the domestic water system and the more than 200 residents who draw their water from South Bay and Manitowaning Bay.

“The decreasing water levels are causing many residents to have to increase the length of their waterlines, which is in turn costly for our community, largely comprised of elderly and low-income families,” stated Mr. Moffat. “And others in the municipality are having their wells dry up. Our once beautiful shorelines are now ugly mud flats, leaving many residents in conflict with the Ministry of Natural Recourses as they attempt to maintain their shorelines. In our rural community, we rely on water access for our fire trucks, and many of these access points are becoming unavailable. We appeal to you as one of the many small communities that rely on the Great Lakes to do something.”

Justin Tilson of Honora Bay was one of the last speakers of the day, and explained that he had been asked to speak by the Green Party of Ontario (which Mr. Tilson represented in the Algoma-Manitoulin riding during the last provincial election).

“What is the projected impact?” asked Mr. Tilson, to which IJC commissioner Iana Pollack responded. “The scientists who did this study said to expect higher highs and longer, lows—this is the best that science can say right now.”

“The lack of intervention in mankind’s history does not have a good track record,” replied Mr. Tilson. “Seems pretty irresponsible to me not to do anything.”

Mr. Tilson’s comment seemed to summarize a theme throughout everyone’s testimonies Sunday—to stand by and to do nothing will not be tolerated by Islanders.

Both word documents and pdfs of the study can be uploaded at www.ic.org/iuglsreport and comments will be accepted until August 31, 2012, and can be submitted via the IJC website, email at commission

@ottawa.ijc.org, or in writing to International Joint Commission, 234 Lauier Avenue West, 22nd Floor, Ottawa Ontario, K1P 6K6.