Thursday, June 16, 2016

Huron water level threatened again - by Toronto's Premier and its Environment (and Climate Change) Minister

The government of Toronto politician Kathleen Wynne issue a press release yesterday. I'll attempt to list the issue that caught my attention dispassionately.

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Release First-Ever Regional Maritime Strategy:
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met today to discuss their ongoing partnership to grow the economy and create jobs. On behalf of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, they released the first-ever regional strategy to jumpstart the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence maritime transportation system. The strategy's objectives are to double maritime trade, shrink the environmental footprint of the region's transportation network, and support the region's industrial core. Once fully implemented, the strategy will help grow the region's maritime sector, which already contributes more than US$30 billion to the U.S. and Canadian economies and accounts for more than 220,000 jobs.
The strategy includes a blend of policies, programs and projects to rejuvenate the regional maritime system. Ten-year implementation of the strategy is estimated at US$3.8 billion based on preliminary analysis. The states and provinces will work with other levels of government, industry and other stakeholders to advance implementation of the recommendations over the longer term. Specific recommendations include:
  • Constructing a second "Poe Class" Lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to ensure the movement of vital raw materials like iron ore and coal. The feasibility of a second hydropower plant should be examined, including the potential of using revenue for future lock maintenance and construction.
  • Clearing the system's dredging backlog to ensure transit for fully loaded vessels. 
  • Dredging the system's critical chokepoint--the St. Marys River--to its authorized depth of 27 feet, while a longer-term, system-wide analysis of bottlenecks is completed to make sure dredging dollars are used most efficiently.
Sounds wonderful - especially the shipping more coal part - but for the real environmentalists of Lake Huron (and particularly Georgian Bay), it seems likely to undermine decades of work getting the negative impacts of dredging the St. Clair river - to 27 feet - recognized.

The St. Marys river is between Lakes Superior and Lake Huron/Michigan (which are essentially the same level being connected by the Straits of Mackinac).  
The St. Clair river is the outflow from Lake Huron as water moves down to Lake Erie. 

After decades of protestation from residents of the Huron/Michigan environments (particularly those near Georgian Bay, which now include me) the International Joint Commission (IJC) received a report late in 2009.
The Study Board concluded that:
1. The difference in water levels between Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake Erie has declined by about 23 centimetres (cm) (9 inches) between 1963 (following the last major navigational channel dredging in the St. Clair River) and 2006.
2. Three key factors contributed to this 23 cm (9 inches) change: A change in the conveyance (water-carrying capacity) of the St. Clair River accounts for an estimated 7 to 14 cm (2.8 to 5.5 inches) of the decline...
The "change in the conveyance" was due do:
The last major dredging in the St. Clair River was undertaken between 1960 and 1962, when the navigation channel was deepened again to 8.2 metres (27 feet) throughout the entire river. 
The recognition that dredging of the St. Clair in the 1960's, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, impacted Lake levels took decades of pressure from environmental groups, particularly those concerned with the loss of wetlands around Georgian Bay, to extract.

Unlike the St. Clair river, the water flow of the St. Marys river is not controlling the outflow from Lake Superior - that is done by a gated dam and three hydroelectric plants.
The IJC's sequel to its 2009 report was 2012's LAKE SUPERIOR REGULATION: ADDRESSING UNCERTAINTY IN UPPER GREAT LAKES WATER LEVELS. While that report essentially dismissed concerns for wetlands (as primarily from Georgian Bay residents), it did not mention dredging the St Marys river to 27 feet either - that move strikes me as driven by the unstated intent to keep the St. Clair at 27 feet.

In order to move more coal.

This Ontario signed onto.

Perhaps the Ministry of Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray shouldn't have changed its name only from the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of the Environment of Climate Change, but just to the Ministry of Climate Change.

The Minister, and his Premier, don't display a concern for nature beyond their feigned interest in thermometers.

picture from the Acknowledgement section of Lake Superior Regulation report


Toronto Mowat Centre, issued a report in June 2014, Low Water Blues. In introducing the report they noted,
"In January 2013, Lake Michigan-Huron reached its lowest levels since the United States and Canada began coordinated measuring and tracking of water levels in 1918." 
Two cold winters subsequently altered that rapidly - apparently squelching any concerns about the outflow down the St. Clair river entirely.

In March 2006 the IJC released Options for Managing Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Water Levels and Flows. That study, and the related website, advocated for wetlands - including:
Fluctuating water levels are necessary to maintain dynamic, diverse and healthy coastal wetlands. Cycles of high and low water levels create diverse wetland vegetation that is more resilient to other stresses put on the system. Occasional high water levels reduce invasion of upland woody plants, helping to increase meadow marsh at upper elevations. Occasional periods of sustained low water levels allow seeds in the lake bed to germinate, establishing many emergent wetland plant species. Low lake levels also suppress invasion of meadow marsh by moisture-requiring cattails, again increasing meadow marsh. In fact, the patterns of water-level change are the driving force that determines the overall diversity and condition of wetland plant communities and the habitats they provide for a multitude of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals.
Perhaps the best ambassador for Georgian Bay wetland efforts is the Trumpeter swan, now threatened by recreational boaters in Burlington (and the governments who would fund their marina expansion). I'd invite readers to follow the Trumpeter Swan Coalition, particularly by reading this Facebook post on the marina situation.

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