May 23, 2005

IJC to revise plan for Upper Great Lakes Study to include St Clair River channel

The International Joint Commission's plan for an Upper Great Lakes Study (UGLS) will be revised to include an examination of the St Clair River channel and its impact on water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The earlier UGLS study plan, submitted to the Canadian and U.S. governments in 2002, called for a review of IJC orders for Lake Superior outflow regulation and the resulting water level impacts on affected interests in the Upper Great Lakes system from Lake Superior downstream through Lake Erie.

The study was initially prompted by a precipitous drop in water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron in recent years, together with low water supplies and low water levels generally on the upper Great Lakes, and concerns generated by this situation.

In the past year, evidence has emerged suggesting that continuing physical changes in the upper St Clair River might be causing important water level changes in Lakes Michigan and Huron. The IJC cites in particular a report by WF Baird & Associates, "Regime Change (Man Made Intervention) and Ongoing Erosion in the St Clair River and Impacts on Lake Michigan-Huron Lake Levels," which was commissioned by the Georgian Bay Association.

The Commission decided to revise its UGLS plan following consultation with its Great Lakes Control Boards. The issue was also discussed at a binational meeting of experts hosted by Environment Canada in Burlington this past March.

As originally envisioned, the plan of study would include consideration of:

*impacts of water-level regulation on current interests, considering demographic changes and enhanced understanding of the environment since the 1970s;

*relationships between water-level regulation and coastline erosion, a particular concern on Lake Michigan; and

*climate change and variability in light of studies indicating that the current regulation plan may not be capable of addressing the changes that might occur.

The revision will also take account of lessons learned from the IJC's $20-million (U.S.) Lake Ontario and St Lawrence River study of the regulation of Lake Ontario and the international section of the St. Lawrence River. A review of these lessons might, among other things, translate into opportunities to reduce the cost of the Upper Lakes Study. The LOS wraps up this fall (see for more information).

The IJC will appoint a binational team of experts who will start work immediately, including public consultations. The team is scheduled to submit the plan of study to the IJC in October 2005. More information is available on the IJC Web site, or from Paula Fedeski-Koundakjian, 613/995-0088.

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