Great Lakes Basin

The Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—contain approximately 18% of the world's freshwater (Government of Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995). This leads to a perception of an extraordinary abundance of water. Yet, only 1% of the water in the Great Lakes is renewable on an annual basis; the rest is a legacy of deglaciation (Gabriel and Kreutzwiser, 1993).

The Great Lakes basin (including St. Lawrence River to Trois Rivières) contains the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and eight U.S. states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) (Figure 2). It is home to roughly one-quarter of the Canadian population and one-tenth of the U.S. population. The lakes play an important role in Canada and the United States, providing resources and opportunities important to many sectors of the region, including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, recreation and tourism, domestic and industrial water sources, navigation, and hydropower.

Before about 1950, a number of water diversions into, out of, and within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system were initiated and many continue today. The Long Lac and Ogoki diversion brings water into the basin from the Hudson Bay watershed and has a mean flow of 159m3/sec. The diversion

1900-1930: Chicago Diversion mandated to meet Illinois dilution ratio for sewage

1956-1957: Request for

Drought release

1900-1930: Chicago Diversion mandated to meet Illinois dilution ratio for sewage

1956-1957: Request for

Drought release

Chart Datum

Annual Water Level

---Average Water Level 1920-2002

Chart Datum

Annual Water Level

---Average Water Level 1920-2002

Chart Datum

Figure 3 Timeline of Great Lakes diversions and Lake Michigan-Huron annual average water levels for 1920-2002. (Modified from Changnon and Glantz, 1996.)

at Chicago, transferring water from Lake Michigan to outside of the Great Lakes basin, is 91m3/sec. The Welland Canal (9400 cfs) and New York State Barge Canal (1070 cfs) transfer water from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario (Cuthbert and Muir, 1991).

A period of low levels occurred in the Great Lakes between the 1930s and the 1960s, followed by a period of high water levels between the 1970s and the late 1990s (see Figure 3).

In 1998, drought conditions began within the Great Lakes basin. Although water levels in Lakes Michigan-Huron were quite high, the annual Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) was beginning to dip below the threshold of -3 to indicate a severe drought was imminent (Figure 4). The following year, 1999, water levels began to drop, ending the period of high water levels that had been characteristic of the lakes since the early 1970s. In 2000 and 2001, water levels were significantly below average, reaching levels that were last seen during the drought of the 1960s. The PDSI for 2000

Extremely Wet Very Wet

Moderately Wet Slightly Wet

Near Normal

Mild Drought Moderate Drought Severe Drought Extreme Drought

Figure 4 Annual Palmer Drought Severity Index for Gore Bay, Ontario, 1930-2002.

reached extreme drought levels and gradually receded to severe drought levels in 2001. Water levels reached borderline extreme negative levels in 2002, and the PDSI returned to a normal level.

Drought conditions can influence the viability and functionality of the Great Lakes basin and affect many sectors. Table 1 lists several examples.

Many Great Lakes provinces and states have developed state- and province-wide drought management and mitigation plans with varying degrees of detail: Ontario (2000), Illinois (1983), Indiana (2002), Michigan (1988), Minnesota (1993), New York (1982), Pennsylvania (2001), and Ohio (1994) (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—Department of Environmental Protection, 2001; Illinois State Water Plan Task Force, 1983; Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 2000; Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 1988; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 1993; New York State Drought Management Task Force, 1982; Ohio Emergency Management Agency, 1994; Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources et al., 2001). (The drought plans for the U.S. states listed are better

Table 1 Drought Impacts in the Great Lakes

Sector Impact

Hydro • Decrease in hydroelectricity production.

Loss of revenue to power producers. Increase in power demands from users. Navigation/ • Vessels carry reduced loads in order to clear ports and channels; must make extra trips to dredging transport goods. Profits are decreased.

Vessels being kept out of service because they are not able to navigate properly. Vessels prohibited from passing through certain canals. Increase in dredging costs for marinas. Recreation/ • Increased dangers for boaters; obstructions normally below the water surface are emerging wildlife (e-g-, logs and rocks).

Recreational boaters have a difficult time entering and exiting marina boat slips. Shoreline receding.

Beaches closed; bacteria aggravated by lower water levels. Ecosystem • Sports clubs, conservation authorities, and government agencies advising fishermen to avoid fishing, because the fish are subject to high rates of mortality due to stress. Hundreds of fish have been killed in many areas; many stranded in shallow puddles within dried up streams and wetlands. Fish have trouble spawning. Ducks have perished because of a dry spring.

An increase in forest fires. The fire season began earlier than usual in some places. Property • Nonessential watering bans issued.

interests • Rural residents in some areas have dry shoreline wells.

Lower levels lead to new islands emerging and the expansion of existing ones, creating issues concerning wildlife, property rights, and land management. Reservoir levels very low.

Table 1 Drought Impacts in the Great Lakes (continued)

Sector Impact

Agriculture • Drought destroys many acres of crops.

• Early harvest for many farmers. Many crops are lost because they were scorching in the fields.

• The quality of many crops is less than desirable.

• Many farm wells go dry. Water is either hauled in or fetched by the farmers themselves at municipal taps. Farmers sell livestock in many cases to deal with the lack of water, rather than go into future debt raising them.

Sources: Associated Press (2002), Brotton (1995), Anonymous (1999a), Anonymous (1999b), Anonymous (2003), Churchill (1998), Diebel (1999), Ferris (1999), Gabriel and Kreutzwiser (1993), Hughes (1999), Ladan (1998), Longbottom (1998), Marr (1998), Nolan (1999), Romahn (1998), Schuck (1998), Toronto Star (1998), van Rijn (1998), van Rijn (1999), Volmers (2001), Younglai (2001).

defined as drought response plans rather than drought management plans. They certainly have little emphasis on drought mitigation.) Many plans are 10 years old or older. Common components include assessment tools (drought triggers), water conservation and drought contingency planning legislation and policy, water allocation or supply methods, public education, and emergency response procedures.

Most jurisdictions focus on increasing resilience to drought by improving conservation, and securing supplies from groundwater, reservoirs, and small lakes. The Michigan plan explicitly does not support diversions outside the basin. It sees diversions as creating an unalterable dependency on Great Lakes water by out-of-basin users, which threatens the continued availability of water for Great Lakes uses. The New York plan identifies the southeastern portion of the state as vulnerable to critical water shortages under extreme drought. Although the primary focus is securing local water sources and conservation, two potential long-term, 22m3/sec water transfer projects were identified. They include the New York Barge Canal system with the Finger Lakes and Lake Cham-plain diverted into the Hudson River and a Great Lakes diversion to the Hudson River via the Black River system.

Diversion of water out of the Great Lakes is an extremely sensitive inter-jurisdictional issue. In the United States, legal precedent in the 1980s on water controversies in Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Colorado has made interbasin transfer legally possible. The 1985 Great Lakes Charter is an institutional framework designed to deal with requests for diversion and export of water. Although not a legally binding document, its signatories (all seven Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces) commit to consult on major new or increased diversion or consumptive use of Great Lakes basin water. The proposed diversion or export will be disallowed if significant adverse impacts to lake levels, in-basin uses, and the Great Lakes are expected.

Population growth, urbanization, security and quality of water supply, power generation, transportation, international markets for water, and water levels as well as drought are key drivers in creating water controversies. During the low-

water period in 1965, downstream and upstream interests and various water users were in conflict. For example, Montreal Harbour interests charged that Ontario Hydro was holding back water for future use and affecting navigation on the St. Lawrence River. Meanwhile, boating and shoreline interests on Lake Ontario thought levels in Montreal Harbour were being maintained at their expense and Ontario Hydro was discharging more water downstream to produce power than what was entering the lake. Although the IJC regulation plan for managing the outflows from Lake Ontario was developed to accommodate sequences of water supplies from 1860 to 1954, the 1960s drought and the high supplies of the 1970s and 1980s challenged the ability of the plan to accommodate all requirements of multiple interests.

Many communities view the waters of the Great Lakes as a valuable resource. Lowell, Indiana, just outside the Great Lakes watershed limits, proposed a pipeline to access Lake Michigan water to improve drinking water quality and expand municipal services, but it was vetoed by Michigan in 1992 as contrary to the Great Lakes Charter. Many small local out-of-basin transfers of water have been proposed, but all have been denied because they set a precedent and have potential cumulative impact on the lakes.

In 1998, the Province of Ontario granted a permit to take water to the Nova Corporation for the removal of Lake Superior water (up to 600 million liters per year over a 5-year period) for export to Asian markets via large tanker ships. An outcry ensued, including the U.S. government, environmental organizations, and native groups (National Post, 1998). The permit was later rescinded, but the incident initiated a process to amend the Great Lakes Charter with a legally binding annex to prohibit withdrawals of large quantities of water without notice and consent; the annex also required the development of standards for review of proposals, public participation, and dispute resolution. Bulk water transfer is a serious issue, where project approval could trigger the interpretation that water is a commercial commodity subject to unrestricted trade under international agreements (Bruce et al., 2003).

In 1900, Chicago constructed a canal to divert Lake Michigan water to drain the sewage down the Illinois River and prevent water-borne disease outbreaks. During the 1930s, the Illinois River was developed as a navigation link between Chicago and the Mississippi River. The conflict between Illinois and other states over the continuously increasing diversion and its perceived impact on lake levels was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which set the diversion at 91m3/sec. Drought has precipitated a number of out-of-basin transfer proposals. In 1936-1938, record low flow in the Mississippi River motivated Illinois and states along the river to request an increase in the diversion; the Supreme Court refused. A special 76-day increase in the flow to the Mississippi River was allowed during the drought of 1953-1956. During the 1988 drought, Illinois requested a diversion of 283m3/sec for 100 days for navigation but was defeated by other Great Lakes states and Canada. During high water levels, the Corps of Engineers was authorized in 1976 to study the effects of a diversion increase to help alleviate high water levels (Chang-non, 1989; Changnon and Glantz, 1996) (Figure 3).

Climate change may result in less water in the Great Lakes Basin, including significant reductions in groundwater levels, streamflow, and lake levels (Bruce et al., 2003; Kunkel and Changnon, 1998; Lofgren et al., 2002; Mortsch and Quinn, 1996; Mortsch et al., 2000).Also, within the North American context, some regions may have less reliable and reduced water supplies in the future. Climate change effects on water and transboundary issues could unfold in the following contexts:

1. Inland communities with diminishing supplies from groundwater and streams and declining water quality will want access to Great Lakes water.

2. Regulation plans were not designed to accommodate the low net basin supplies and connecting channel flows with climate change scenarios (Lee and Quinn, 1994). It will be challenging to balance the many interests if there is insufficient water.

3. The Niagara River Treaty allows equal apportionment of Niagara River flows between Canada and the United States for hydroelectric generation. As of 2000, the treaty can be reopened for negotiation. Should the amount of water in the Niagara River become seriously reduced because of climate change, apportionment could become a point of negotiation between the two countries (Bruce et al., 2003). Canada may want credit for the Ogoki-Long Lac diversion at more generation sites and the Chicago diversion debited to the U.S. side.

4. Although potential water demands from the U.S. southwest are more apparent and the Chicago diversion could be expanded, the demand from cities such as New York and Philadelphia may be an additional diversion pressure (Changnon, 1994; Changnon and Glantz, 1996).

Increasing numbers and fractiousness of inter-jurisdic-tional conflicts over the quality and availability of water resources seems highly probable (Bruce et al., 2003). It is uncertain whether the Great Lakes Charter will be a successful instrument for the Great Lakes states and provinces to protect their shared water resources from diversion pressures.

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  • Charlie Sheen
    Good info. I liked it
    8 years ago

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