Shore property owners call on Great Lakes governors and premier to declare a highwater level emergency

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GEORGIAN BAY – The joint US and Canadian International Joint Commission (IJC), which regulates water levels on Lake Ontario, has launched a new inquiry to consider amendments or improvements to its controversial Plan 2014 regimen for managing lake levels, the IJC revealed last week. 

Meanwhile, membership of several shore property owner associations are calling for the governors of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and the premier of Ontario to issue disaster declarations over high water level impacts on all of the Great Lakes. The outcries follow the lead of the State of New York, which sued the International Joint Commission (IJC), a  US-Canadian treaty organization, over Lake Ontario water level management.

New York filed its lawsuit in November 2019, alleging that the IJC failed to follow its own protocol for releasing water from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River in 2017 and 2019 causing shoreline damages along New York shorelines.

Shoreline residents along Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie have been encouraging their federal, state and provincial governments to react to unprecedented high-water levels on each of these lakes, to no apparent avail, according to a Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation release. The release goes on to note that each of these lakes has set new historic high records over the last six months. Most alarmingly, Lakes Michigan and Huron and Georgian Bay, which are at the same level being connected through the Straits of Mackinac, are now 14 inches higher than last year at this time. New record highs occurred on Lakes Michigan and Huron in January and February and are forecasted to set new record highs each month through August and perhaps beyond.

The Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation asserts that the UJC has ignored similar outcries from several sectors over the last 14 months to push for cutting back inflows from the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions north of Lake Superior while the Great Lakes have received record-setting precipitation and snowfall. In addition, the IJC approved deviating from its Lake Superior Regulation Plan 2012 (as amended) by dumping more water from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron than called for in the plan.

Roger Gauthier, the American chair of Restore Our Water International (ROWI), an umbrella organization of US and Canadian shore property and small business owners stated, “we sent three letters to the IJC and its International Lake Superior Board of Control starting in November 2018 requesting a cut back of inflows into Lake Superior from the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions. We have pleaded with them that allowing inflows into the Great Lakes during this crisis is unconscionable. They have ignored our legitimate complaints. Is our only recourse to sue them to do their jobs?”

Prior IJC studies have concluded that the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions have permanently raised Lake  Superior to 2.5 inches, Michigan-Huron by four inches and Lakes Erie and Ontario by three inches. These studies have shown that every inch of water on the lakes increases flooding and erosion damages exponentially. The Ontario government cut back inflows from these diversions in 1952, 1973 and 1985 in reaction to public outcries in previous high water periods.

Mary Muter, the Canadian chair of the Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation and vice-chair of ROWI added to this outcry. “Record high water levels have devastated the coastal ecosystem around Georgian Bay destroying critical wetlands needed to nurture the fishery across the upper Great Lakes. I am also concerned that, as septic systems close to the shore become flooded, increased nutrient loading into Georgian Bay cold cause massive algal blooms this summer.”

The UC two weeks ago announced that they would be spending $3 million from the US and Canadian federal governments to improve control of water levels on Lake Ontario. However, there appears to be no similar emphasis on their part to address record-setting levels on the upper Great Lakes.