Manitoulin logical genesis for grass roots water levels movement

Manitoulin people, whether part of First Nations communities, descended from European stock who came here to take up land in the 1870s, 1890s, and 1890s, more recent arrivals or, of course tourist visitors, are all well aware that Manitoulin is the largest island, located in fresh water, in the world.

That is quite a claim and, for many Manitoulin people, that is, at least in part, a definition of where they live.

When we parse this claim, break it down into manageable units, define it, it means that Manitoulin has more shoreline, lapped by the fresh water of Lake Huron/Georgian Bay, than does any other island in any other body of fresh water, anywhere.

This newspaper, as an example, has as its front page statement underneath the paper’s flag, the claim, in bold type, that it is “Published weekly on the largest fresh water Island in the world” and it has been proclaiming this, week after week, since that front page flag was created in 1939.

In 1939 when that “new” flag was drawn and cast in type to commemorate the paper’s sixtieth anniversary of publication, the publisher/editor at the time thought this information about Manitoulin was sufficiently valuable and useful to locate it in the paper’s most prime real estate.

In the ensuing 72 years, no proprietor of this paper has thought any differently about the matter and so it remains still proclaiming Manitoulin Island’s iconic attribute on the front page.

It was fitting, then, that when the chair of the International Upper Great Lakes Study Team acknowledged the throng that came to the Kagawong Park Centre for information on the issue of constantly dropping Lake Huron/Georgian Bay and Lake Michigan water levels, he noted that the standing-room-only crowd that overflowed the Park Centre last Saturday was the largest group to which he had made a presentation to date.

(He noted that crowds on the US side of the lake tended to be quite small and the 200-plus gathering last Saturday had as its closest rival a hall filled with 183 people, in Collingwood, recently.)

The event was well publicized and, clearly, people had decided that this issue was important enough to give up an entire summer Saturday morning in order to either receive information about the lake, to share their own view or, more probably, both.

On Manitoulin, the event was hosted by the local Area Stewardship Council that has determined the falling water level issue is sufficiently serious that it has struck a standing committee to investigate the issue and, hopefully, will work to bring political pressure, from every level, to bear on halting, slowing or in some way mitigating the problem, to which, on this largest fresh water island in the world, virtually everyone can relate.

From the very large crowd of concerned people who came both to listen and be heard it is hopeful that Manitoulin can be the genesis of a grass-roots appeal, making common cause with other similarly concerned citizens around Georgian Bay, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and so create an international movement that will require politicians and civil servants to take this very, very seriously.

It was very encouraging for this paper to be told, very plainly, by one member of the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council last Saturday that, “we’re not going to let this drop!”

Well said.

To this we could add the statement, written by Providence Bay area summer Manitoulin resident Elinor Ostram, 2009 Nobel prize winner in economics. Dr. Ostrom, a professor of Political Science at Indiana University, was unable to attend the Saturday meeting but her letter of concern was read by Lyle Dewar of Providence Bay, a friend of the Ostrom family.

Dr. Ostrom’s statement follows. It is addressed to the members of the International Upper Great Lakes Study Team.

Dear Study Team Members:

My husband and I bought land on the south shore of the Manitoulin Island in 1967. We built a log cabin, where we have spent many summer writing retreats with regular walks along the shore of Lake Huron. It has been distressing to observe the reduced levels of Lake Huron in more recent years.

I am very concerned that many public investments across the Great Lakes system have led to unprecedented and sustained lower levels of Lake Huron for the past 12 years. Investments in increased conveyance, dredging channels, and other public works have hardened the shoreline, led to losses of wetland habitats, and reduced fish habitat regions. I am afraid that the substantial costs to the ecology of Lake Huron have not been taken into account in past evaluations of Great Lakes projects.

I urge the Study Team to take these substantial costs into account in assessing the impact of future policies and public investments. As a scholar focusing on the benefits and costs of diverse ways of governing and managing natural resources, I understand how difficult decisions about benefits and costs can be. I am distressed that the costs to the Manitoulin Island and other shorelines of Lake Huron have not adequately been taken into account in decisions about water levels and flows in the Great Lakes system.

Sincerely yours,

Elinor Ostrom,
Indiana University Distinguished Professor,
Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science,
Senior Research Director,
Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.