September 18, 2006

Canada, Ontario contribute $500K to initial phase of Upper Great Lakes study

The federal and Ontario governments are providing $500,000 to support the first phase of a major study by the International Joint Commission (IJC) on the regulation of Lake Superior water outflows. As part of an overall study of the Upper Great Lakes, the IJC will be trying to determine whether improvements are needed in the regulation of outflows from the lake to respond to the evolving needs of the users of all the Upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) and their interconnecting channels.

"Water levels and outflow changes can have significant impacts on all those who depend on the Great Lakes. This study will help ensure that the best science is used to make long-term decisions affecting their management," said federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. An additional $500,000 for the IJC study is being contributed by the U.S. government.

The IJC's review will address the impacts of regulating outflows from Lake Superior on water levels, flows and consequently affected interests throughout the Upper Great Lakes system, from Lake Superior downstream through Lake Erie.

Shoreline property owners, hydropower, commercial navigation and domestic, commercial and municipal water use are long-standing interests that continue to evolve, while recreational boating and environmental concerns have grown in significance over the past several decades. Accordingly, it is important that water levels are regulated to reflect and balance the needs of all users to the greatest extent possible.

The continuously evolving needs in the Upper Great Lakes system, together with concerns about global climate change, have given rise to questions about whether improvements should be made to the current regulation of water outflows.

In addition, the Georgian Bay Association (GBA), a group of shoreline property and cottage owners and marina and tourist operators in the Georgian Bay area, has expressed concern that the St Clair riverbed has been, and is being, steadily eroded by shoreline alteration, historical aggregate riverbed mining and navigational dredging. This, in turn, has resulted in a permanent, continued lowering of water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron, says the GBA.

The original plan for the Upper Great Lakes study was expanded to incorporate these considerations, and now includes an examination, during its early phase, of past and possible continuing physical changes in the St Clair River and the impacts of these changes on the river flow and water levels of the Upper Great Lakes.

The binational study is expected to take five years to complete, at a total cost of $17.5 million. Environment Canada is expected to participate in many scientific and technical aspects of the study.

The project will also take into consideration lessons learned from the five-year, international Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River study, including the importance of communication and consultation, strategic planning and data collection methods. The IJC will appoint a binational study board and public advisory group, and will work with the Canadian and U.S. governments to put their funding mechanisms and other needed resources in place.

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