By Mary Lee, President, Georgian Bay Association
This article reprinted with permission from GBA UPDATE, Vol. 17 No. 2
Back in 2005, we reported on a six-month study conducted by W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers for the Georgian Bay Association (GBA) Foundation and the growing drain hole in the St. Clair River. Recent data show that the hole has become even bigger. In fact, three times more water than previously thought is escaping every day. If we continue to lose our water at this rate, we’re going to lose more wetlands.Wetlands are the spawning and nursery habitat for Georgian Bay’s aquatic life. The International Joint Commission has told us that when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, environmental impacts were not considered. Now they must be, and that is why the research funded by the Foundation and undertaken by McMaster University wetlands biologists is so important.
What you can do to help
We need your help because sustained low water levels will impact wetlands and water quality. Many of our communities in enclosed bays, where circulation is limited, are at increased risk for algal blooms if the water keeps going down. And climate change is expected to make the situation much worse.
Stay informed, get involved, and make your voice heard. Check our website for details on public meetings and please write to the International Joint Commission (www.ijc.org) and your government representatives asking that they act quickly.
We need mitigation soon. Examination of the St. Clair River erosion and potential mitigation measure was added to the Upper Lakes Study in May of 2005. At the time, it was to be conducted at the start of the Study, with possible mitigation solutions as early as 2009. Georgian Bay can’t wait for the entire Upper Great Lakes Study to be completed, but unfortunately this is now a distinct possibility.
Mitigation measures have been contemplated before. For example, there is an outstanding order for mitigation in the St. Clair River on which no action has been taken. On three subsequent occasions, mitigation structures have been designed but not constructed. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has admitted that at one point foundations were actually built but that the work was never completed.
GBA has worked long and hard to get both Canada and U.S. politicians onside and the funding approved for the St.Clair study. We have members of our water levels committee on both the Canadian and U.S. Public Interest Advisory Committees and the Science Technical Advisory Committees. But the problem is now urgent.
Three-dimensional modeling could determine where rocks should be placed in the river to prevent further erosion. Previous IJC and USACE plans have called for permanent structures but these need further research as the riverbed has changed significantly.
The GBA Foundation funded the Baird work that documented the increased conveyance capacity of the St. Clair River (the outflow of Lake Huron). This huge diversion of water was previously unknown to any government agency.Now it is three times bigger. GBA has to ensure that our governments find the appropriate solutions.
Because this is such a huge undertaking for our organization, we are once again reaching out to other groups on both sides of the Great Lakes including the shipping industry. We’re planning a bi-national press release and will be speaking about water levels at many venues over the summer. You will be hearing more. If anyone has any other suggestions please contact Mary Muter at firstname.lastname@example.org.