ROWI receives positive response from US reps on water level action

ONTARIO—Restore Our Water International (ROWI) has received positive response to having the United States government act on the advice of the International Joint Commission (IJC) on taking actions to curb dropping water levels in the Great Lakes.

“We held a large series of meetings in Washington, they were absolutely grueling, but they were successful,” stated Mary Muter, of ROWI, last week. “We had 16 meetings with representatives on the Hill, congress leaders, state department members, White House intergovernmental affairs officers and with the gentleman who will soon be appointed as the head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for water.”

“The meetings were successful, as there are now going to be two letters on US senators’ office and House of Representatives members’ letterhead directing the government to act on the IJC advice,” stated Ms. Muter. “This is going to come from the US Senate and the House of Representatives to the administration at the White House.”

“At our meetings we were focussed on the issue of water levels,” said Ms. Muter. “What the US representatives will now try to do is find a pocket of money for this type of work.”

The presentation made by ROWI to the US representatives stated, “Restore Our Water International (ROWI) is an alliance of American and Canadian organizations concerned about the dire environmental and economic impacts of the low water crisis on Lakes Michigan and Huron and on Georgian Bay. ROWI currently represents over 15,000 shoreline owners and commercial interests across the water bodies. The mission of ROWI is to restore the natural ranges of water levels on the Great Lakes and flows in their interconnecting waterways that have been altered by manmade intervention.”

“Water level ranges on each of the Great Lakes have been modified by humans over the last 145 years to improve commercial transport of iron ore and other goods and to produce stable, plentiful and clean hydropower. These changes have produced huge national and regional benefits; however, they have caused the water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron to be at least 20 inches lower today than what they would be under natural conditions,” ROWI said. “Low water levels are causing an environmental and economic crisis. Environmental impacts include lost wetlands, fish spawning territory and bird nesting areas putting at risk the sustainability, bio-diversity and health of the Great Lakes ecosystems surrounding them. Economic impacts are occurring from degradation of harbour infrastructure, diminished hydropower production, reduced recreational opportunities, increased costs of commercial shipping and a downturn in the commercial and sport fishing industry resulting in multi-billion dollar annual losses to the region.”

ROWI pointed out, “2013 marks the 14th consecutive year water levels have been below ‘low water datum,’ a level defined by an IJC study group as a target when crisis response actions should be implemented. Unfortunately, no actions have been started to reduce the environmental and economic impacts caused by this protracted downturn in levels.”

Climate and human changes have been made to the water balance, said ROWI. “Since 1998, climate across the Great Lakes region shifted significantly with a decrease in snowfall and rainfall over the northern portions of the drainage basin and an increase in lake surface temperatures which has caused greater evaporation and reduced ice cover in winter months. These climate changes, coupled with a long history of increases in outflows through the St. Clair River, have caused the current protracted low water crisis on Lakes Michigan and Huron.”

There has also been increased St. Clair River outflows, says ROWI. “Dredging, sand/gravel mining and channel bottom erosion in the St. Clair River have created increased outflow capacity which has permanently lowered Lakes Michigan and Huron by at least 50 centimetres or 20 inches since 1855. Congress authorized the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to study how to compensate for increased outflow capacity, or conveyance of the river in 1957. Unfortunately, funding was never provided to construct compensation structures to rectify these man-made problems.”

“The 50 centimetre or 20 inch lowering of Lakes Michigan and Huron was caused by a series of changes to the conveyance of the St. Clair River starting with dredging of a 6.1 metre or 20 foot deep navigation channel between 1855 and 1906, a 7.6 metre or 25 foot deep channel in 1930-1937, and a 8.2 metre or 27 foot deep channel in 1960-1962,” continued ROWI. “Since 1962, there is clear evidence that the river bottom erosion has occurred, increasing outflows from Lake Huron downstream into Lakes St. Clair and Erie. Compensation structures were installed in the Detroit River in the 1930s and 1960s to rectify increased conveyance in the river course, without permanent adverse effects upstream or downstream.”

As for solutions, “the USACE developed preliminary designs for compensation structures that could be placed in the St. Clair River to hold water back on Lake Huron. The compensation structures, as designed, could include a series of underwater “sills” (or speed bumps) that could be placed on the river bottom and potentially gated structures in areas that are not part of the maintained commercial navigation channel. Implementation of St. Clair River compensation measures should include installation of temporary structures at the head of the Niagara River to negate all downstream impacts. “

“What is needed from the US and Canadian governments? ROWI is asking that both the US and Canadian governments seek a permanent solution to the low water crisis on the Upper Great Lakes, including the following actions: 1-Call on the US and Canada to act on the IJC advice to governments on Michigan-Huron water level restoration; 2-Provide congressional authorization to the USACE to assess compensation measures that provide at least 20 inches of water level restoration for past dredging, sand/gravel mining and erosion to Lakes Michigan and Huron and to assess necessary options to offset any downstream effects on Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario; 3- Include funds in the president’s 2015 budget to fund USCE evaluation of compensation measures; and 4-Promote water level restoration as a key component of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

“At our meetings I repeatedly told all those we spoke to that the Canadian government is willing to co-fund the work recommended by the IJC,” said Ms. Muter. “We’ve wanted funding in place for this necessary work to be carried out as soon as possible.”

Tom Sasvari