Environment & Science
2:23 pm
Fri April 26, 2013

Raising water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron with man-made stuctures

The International Joint Commission (IJC) recommends that the U.S. and Canadian governments investigate the option of placing man-made structures in the St. Clair River to raise water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

The IJC is a binational organization that develops recommendations and resolves disputes over waters between the U.S. and Canada.

More from Jon Flesher of the Associated Press:

Lakes Michigan and Huron hit their lowest level ever recorded in January after lagging well below normal since the late 1990s. The commission acknowledges their shared level was lowered by dredging in the St. Clair River at the south end of Lake Huron in the last century. But scientists say drought and evaporation are the biggest causes.

The commission report suggests looking at placing structures in the river that could boost levels 5 to 10 inches.

The "structures" they recommend placing in the river vary. In the report the IJC sent to both the U.S. and Canada on April 15th, they recommended six "engineering solutions":

  • sills
  • dikes
  • weirs
  • inflatable flap gates
  • inflatable weirs
  • hydrokinetic turbines

The IJC says the structures would be used to reduce the flow and "conveyance capacity" in the St. Clair River:

...and, in turn, raise the level of Lake Michigan-Huron by some predetermined amount. Some of the solutions would lead to a permanent specified relative increase in water levels, while others involve small-scale regulatory-type structures that would have a varying effect on levels and that could be operated so as not to exacerbate high levels.

But water moves through the Great Lakes system slowly. So the IJC says levels wouldn't jump up:

It is important to note that the full effects of these structures would not be immediate, but rather could take up to a decade to achieve the desired outcome, depending on hydrological conditions.

The U.S. Chair of the IJC, Lana Pollack, chose not to sign the report in protest.

Pollack said the report doesn't put enough emphasis on the impacts of climate change and the need for governments to adapt to the warmer climate.

From the IJC press release:

She also cautioned against raising "false hopes that structures in the St. Clair River, if built, would be sufficient to resolve the suffering from low water levels of Lake Michigan-Huron, while at the same time causing possible disruption downstream in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie."

The last dredging project on the St. Clair River that impacted water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron was completed in 1962. Between then and now, the Lakes have set record high water marks too.

The International Joint Commission said their advice to governments is in response to the findings and recommendations of the International Upper Great Lakes Study.