The Army Corps of Engineers and its counterpart, Environment Canada, are charged by the International Joint Commission, with communicating to the public on the subject of Great Lakes water levels. This writer has found them to always be truthful in their comments. However, they are notorious for omission of many basic facts to make a particular point.
For instance the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 established definite priorities for control of water flows and levels affecting the shorelines of both nations. The priorities are shipping and hydro power, with no emphasis at all upon shoreline structures or recreational boating. If you are at all familiar with the inability of government to take action, you will understand why the priorities of 1909 have not changed one iota in the century since.
Unless pressed, the Corps of Engineers is hesitant to mention the three flow controls at Sault St. Marie, the upper Niagara River and Cornwall, Ontario, that are designed to manage Great Lakes water levels. Instead, their explanation usually goes to water supplies of precipitation, runoff and evaporation. These controls do not appear to be efficiently coordinated and, while not a total solution, could be very useful to minimize either low or high water level extremes.
Mitigating extreme conditions is evidently not the objective because the state and provincial mentality is to retain as much valuable fresh water in the system as possible, an admirable goal. Of course, during periods of low water, there is not enough, but during periods of high levels, it seems insane to follow such reasoning.
The Corps of Engineers almost never mentions the many ideas presented over the years to better control water levels. Most of the time the governments cite lack of funds for investigating suggested innovations, since the financial focus seems to be on the ocean coasts rather than the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the world.
Having lived on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan for 40 years and serving as international chairman of the Great Lakes Coalition, with 4,000 members in the United States and Canada, at the time I held office the phenomenon certainly appeared to me to be severely impacted by the decision not to mitigate extremes. Of course, the governments cannot be all things to all people, but they surely could do much better.
The governments have not, and probably never will, be able to identify and rank the relative importance of the many interests in the Great Lakes. Therefore, the 1909 priorities will probably continue or generations, even though the Great Lakes shipping industry is now a mere shadow of its former stature and established hydro power is just another interest.
— Bill Andresen is a resident of Park Township.
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