Water levels higher, ferry loads heavier

Lake Huron on par with 2012

LAKE HURON—Work being done to the fenders at South Baymouth and Tobermory is underway with the completion date of mid-July still in the sights of the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC).

“It’s going well,” Susan Schrempf, CEO and president of the OSTC, told The Expositor last week. “We had a little bit of a hiccup where the steel fabrications (for the Tobermory job) needed adjustment, so we moved operations to South Baymouth to do work while these were being fixed.”

“We’re now removing timbers in South Baymouth and then it’s back to Tobermory to install the fabricated steel structures,” she added, noting that this has caused a small delay, but that the week of July 15-19 remains the finish date. Transport Canada has asked that the wooden timbers, still in good shape, be retained for future use, Ms. Schrempf explained.

Currently, the docks at Tobermory are “flirting with chart datum,” she continued, noting that the Chi-Cheemaun is back to normal in terms of load line restrictions, with fully loaded transport trucks being welcomed back aboard, provided a reservation is made first.

“We’re booking two fully loaded transport trucks per trip, and if there are more, it’s then the captain’s call,” she added. “Last year reservations were optional, but now they are mandatory for transports.”

The Chi-Cheemaun is nine percent behind in traffic for the same eight days in 2012, but the OSTC is hopeful that this gap will be closed come the four daily return trip summer season, which began last Friday, June 21.

“Things are starting to normalize,” Ms. Schrempf added.

“There was an awful lot of publicity about us not running, but we were hoping to have as much publicity about the fact that we are running,” the CEO continued. “I believe there are still those out there that believe we are still not running.”

While water levels have impacted the Chi-Cheemaun, they are a concern to most people and Islanders will be pleased to know that Lake Huron levels are one centimetre below this time last year, and 48 centimetres below the long-term average, a jump of 20 centimetres below the long-term average from the beginning of April, explained Chuck Southam of the Boundary Waters Issues Unit of Environment Canada. While a mere centimeter may not seem like fantastic news considering the amount of precipitation Manitoulin has received over the past couple of months, one must keep in mind the drastic drop in levels witnessed last fall and over the winter months—a large gap to close.

By June 22, last year, Lake Huron began its yearly seasonal descent, slightly earlier than normal, which led to the record lows reached by December 2012 and January 2013. Mr. Southam explained that Islanders should hope to see a seasonal decline this year that won’t begin until July and that levels either hold, or even increase slightly with precipitation that is expected this week. This, he said, would be a best-case scenario.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that things might be a bit better than last fall,” Mr. Southam told The Expositor, noting that the cool weather experienced until Monday of this week was a good thing, as it meant evaporation levels would be low. “We need above average supplies for wet weather.”

Lake Huron average levels have us sitting at six centimetres above chart datum (176 metres) and 31 centimetres above the peer to record low for this time of year.

The Expositor also questioned Mr. Southam on the lake’s water temperatures, as hot summer temperatures made their first appearance on Monday of this week. Guiding this reporter to a link on Environment Canada’s webpage, a graph shows that the current water temperature sits at approximately 14°C, right where it should be for this time of year in comparison to the last 20 years, so swimmers can be assured we’re on the right track.

While some may grumble at the prospect of days on end of rain, remember it means Lake Huron is moving that that much closer to stopping the gap.

Alicia McCutcheon