Public input a vital part of Great Lakes study process

To the Expositor:

During July and August, the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board held a dozen public meetings in the United States and Canada, and received comments on the second and final phase of its study on Great Lakes water levels. The study is examining how the regulation plan for outflows from Lake Superior at Sault Ste. Marie might be improved, the benefits and costs of multi-lake regulation, and providing an exploratory look at the trade-offs related to control structures in the St. Clair River to influence Lake Michigan-Huron levels.

We’re happy to report that more than 1,200 people attended the Phase 2 meetings, including Ontario meetings in Sarnia, Collingwood, Midland, Kagawong, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie. We heard from about 100 additional people and organizations during a comment period that ran from July 18 through August 31. This letter is to offer our thanks to those who participated, and to stress that public input is a vital part of the study process.

It is for that reason that the Study Board has consulted regularly with a Public Interest Advisory Group, or PIAG, since 2007. PIAG members bring perspectives from throughout the basin, including those of shoreline property owners, boaters, anglers, governments, Native Americans, First Nations, hydroelectric power producers, and environmental and shipping organizations. PIAG also has worked with Study leaders to better disseminate information on the findings of hundreds of scientists involved with the study.

Several Ontario residents have served on PIAG, including Jim Bruce of Ottawa, Jim Anderson of Renfrew, Chris Baines of Toronto, Doug Cuddy of Sault Ste. Marie, Richard Hibma of Newmarket, Ken Higgs of Port Severn, Bill Hryb of Thunder Bay, John Jackson of Kitchener, and Don Marles of Sault Ste. Marie.

During our Phase 2 summer meetings and comment period, we heard a variety of views. There was general support for an improved Lake Superior regulation plan. We heard support in Ontario’s Georgian Bay for raising Lake Michigan-Huron water levels. We heard opposition to the same restoration analysis from people along Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. We heard some interest in further exploring multi-lake regulation scenarios for the lakes, and in using a water quantity advisory board to better monitor and manage lake levels into the future and provide public information.

Our study also has generated new regional climate change models for the lakes, and looked further into the impacts of Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA), the shifting of the earth’s crust. These are all complex issues that require consideration of basin-wide effects, and balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders in different geographical locations. For example, over 40 years, a 10-centimeter restoration of water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron would be lessened by GIA, while that same increase could cause flooding in Chicago or Milwaukee where GIA more than doubles the apparent increase in levels. As one result of the public input process, we are exploring local wetland restoration options for the Georgian Bay area.

As with the first phase of the study, an independent peer review process is already under way to make sure the results of Phase 2 are based on sound scientific analysis. Our goal is for the final report to be useful to the International Joint Commission (IJC), US and Canadian officials, and to local governments and citizens throughout the basin.

A synthesis of questions asked and comments received from the public will be included in our final report to the IJC, to be submitted in March of 2012. Subsequently, the IJC is expected to hold its own public hearings, before making any recommendations to the US and Canadian governments on the management of Great Lakes water levels. For more information, see www.iugls.org.

Sincerely,
Dave Powers, US co-chair, PIAG
Bay City, Michigan
Jim Bruce, Canadian co-chair, PIAG
Ottawa