Thanks to spring run-off, Lake Huron levels closing in on 100-year average

LAKE HURON—While we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of water levels, Environment Canada has some good news for those who dwell on the shorelines of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay thanks to a wet spring with plenty of spring run-off.

Chuck Southam, who heads Environment Canada’s boundary water issues unit, told The Expositor in the paper’s annual spring interview that 2014 has seen a larger-than-average seasonal rise, bringing Lake Huron, as of late last week, to just 16 centimetres below the 1918-2013 average and making the Great Lake 35 centimetres higher than the same time last May.

“That’s a long way better than January 2013 when we were 70 centimetres below average,” Mr. Southam said, the dramatic one metre-plus rise over the past 16 months a reminder of just how far lake levels have risen.

Last spring, the levels rose above chart datum (176 metres) and since the end of March 2014, levels have risen another 40 centimetres, Mr. Southam explained.

“A typical seasonal rise is 29 centimetres (for Lake Huron),” he added. That’s nearly double the average increase this year’s rise represents.

[pullquote]“A typical seasonal rise is 29 centimetres (for Lake Huron),” he added. That’s nearly double the average increase this year’s rise represents.[/pullquote]

Lake Huron’s levels are now 22 centimetres higher than the July 19 seasonal peak of last year at 176.33 metres.

“We’re now getting into the growing season, so there’s not as much runoff because of the plants, but I would like to see the levels go up a bit more,” Mr. Southam said.

However, even if the levels start to level out now, the water levels expert added, Lake Huron’s levels will still be higher than last year. “Things are looking pretty good.”

“If we have a really, really wet summer, we could get back up to average this fall,” Mr. Southam said.

Colin Dobell, founder and executive director of Stop the Drop, said that while we’re in for a good summer, residents of the Great Lakes should not become complacent.

“The past year’s weather that brought water levels back was really unusual,” Mr. Dobell said in an email to The Expositor. “The last time Owen Sound saw a colder winter was 1904—the airplane hadn’t been invented and Wiarton had the second most rain/snow in a century. Is this the new normal on the Great Lakes? Don’t bet on it.”

“Climate change models predict more of this extreme water level volatility and our government is not preparing for it,” he continued. “It’s already costing us.  Low waters in 2012-13 hit up Georgian Bay communities for $25 million. This winter’s extreme weather will cost even more.”

Mr. Dobell encouraged Great Lake residents, and all Ontarians and Canadians in general, to continue to raise the issue with local politicians.

And what of Lake Huron water temperatures? Considering the record ice cover and unseasonably cool spring, water levels in this Great Lake are the coldest they’ve been since 2009, but aren’t too far off the average. According to Great Lakes CoastWatch, the lake is sitting at about 7°C and is getting ever closer to last year’s temperature at this time, so swimming may be in the forecast for this summer after all.