Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 27, 2013

Panel: Structures may be needed to boost lake levels

TRAVERSE CITY — A U.S.-Canadian panel urged both nations Friday to consider installing water retention structures to boost levels on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, which fell to their lowest point on record in January and have lagged well below their historical average since the late 1990s.

The International Joint Commission, which advises the two federal governments about shared waterways, called for a study of placing inflatable gates or other devices in the St. Clair River, the outlet at the southern end of Lake Huron. Officials have acknowledged that dredging, gravel mining and other human activities eroded the river bottom in the last century, accelerating the volume that flowed out of Lake Huron toward Lake Erie.

Owners of Huron shoreline property, particularly in Canada’s Georgian Bay, have demanded action for years to offset the losses, although federal scientists say rising evaporation and declining rain and snow are the biggest reasons for the lake’s drop-off.

In a letter to the governments, the commission proposed investigating ways to raise Huron and Michigan by 5 to 10 inches. Although considered two separate lakes, they are connected by a 5-mile-wide strait and are the same elevation above sea level.

“Although future water levels are uncertain, we cannot ignore the damage” already done from record lows, said Joe Comuzzo, chairman of the Canadian delegation to the commission.

Although not endorsing specific measures, the panel suggested focusing on adjustable devices that could be activated during low-water periods when outflow from Lake Huron needs to be reduced and deactivated when there’s danger that water could get too high.

The commission has six members, three from both countries, although one of the Canadian positions is vacant. Four of them signed the report. Lana Pollack, head of the U.S. delegation, declined to endorse it because she said it might give “false hopes” that artificial structures could solve the low-water problem.

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