October 2021 Update

It is with sadness that we inform our supporters that our Vice Chair Roy Schatz passed peacefully on September 30, 2021. Roy was the heart and soul of our organization and is now sorely missed. His political acumen and strategic planning skills helped lead us to where we are today as the scientifically sound voice on the Bay. His support for our scientific advisors on water levels, wetlands and water quality never wavered. And with political skills and his great sense of humour, he picked up grammar mistakes and missing commas in a way that he never offended anyone. He is missed, but, we as GBGLF’s board intend to continue to follow his path to protect Georgian Bay for generations to come by supporting the scientific research to be able to share with political leaders so they can also act to protect the Bay. Roy’s obituary is posted on our website here

So, what is happening to water levels now! Take a look at the recent steep decline below. The decline is likely in part due to dry conditions but there is another very significant factor.

Our recent newsletter had photos of the massive ice jam last winter in the St. Clair River. Has that caused erosion of the riverbed? Are we headed for yet another new record low level? We simply do not know because the IJC and our government agencies have failed to act on the IJC’s Commissioners’ 2013 “Advice to Governments” recommending that a model be developed to determine conveyance or outflow changes in the St. Clair River. And then that flexible measures be designed to stabilize the flows. Sadly, that has not happened.

Why not? The IJC currently manage our water levels to benefit shipping and hydropower and to keep Lake Superior at a narrow range of 4 feet while Lakes Michigan/Huron/Georgian Bay are allowed to wildly swing with an ever-increasing range of now 2 meters or almost 7 feet. This is unacceptable given the loss of wetland habitat that has happened to Georgian Bay’s high quality extensive wetlands. Our wetlands dried up for 13 years beginning in 2000 and more recently our wetlands flooded resulting in trees and shoreline vegetation dying with very limited fish and/or wildlife habitat.

Change in pattern of water-level fluctuations can result in very different wetland structure

Our work with McMaster U’s Prof. Pat Chow-Fraser demonstrates the loss of and damages to the most extensive and highest quality wetlands found anywhere in the Great Lakes. What was quite alarming this past summer was to see the extensive algal blooms happening right in what were once large pristine but now flooded wetlands that due to the extreme high levels had dead trees and dead marsh meadow plants releasing nutrients resulting in large algae blooms. Below left is picture summer 2021 of large masses of algae smothering wetland plants and deoxygenating the water resulting in loss of fish spawning and or nursery habitat – in what was a large, high quality pristine Provincially Significant Wetland near Go Home Bay.

Does the IJC even care? Apparently not. Their Great Lakes Adaptive Management committee has focused solely on Lake Ontario that is maintained at a range of about 5 feet.

Is the St. Clair Riverbed eroding again increasing the outflow? Is this happening in any of the other connecting channels? The answer is no because the other connecting channels – St. Mary’s River and St. Lawrence River – have control gates and locks for shipping (not the Detroit or Niagara Rivers). We have nothing! The St. Clair River bottom is mobile (ie moving) sand and clay exposed during the last navigation dredging that removed the rock rubble cover. Fortunately, there are some Americans organizations that are concerned including the members of our Restore Our Waters International.

How the IJC’s International Lake Superior Board of Control (ILSBC) fails to follow their own Regulation Plan 2012 criteria requirement “to balance interests both upstream and downstream” of the St. Mary’s River control gates ie Lakes Superior vs Lakes Michigan/Huron/Georgian Bay (MH/GB). Water levels are down but can we breathe a sigh of relief? Not so quickly.

For almost two decades our consulting hydraulic engineer Bill Bialkowski has been updating his graphs of Great Lakes water levels showing the overall trendline. He does this with regularly updated levels and flow data shared with him by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit hydrology staff. By January 2022 our levels are predicted to be 50cm or 20in lower than January 2021. That is a very significant and concerning rapid decline the cause of which is not known at this time. And in the last decade alone MH/GB has set a new record high (2020) and a new record low (2013). So it came as a surprise to us in an August call with the USACE and ECCC when they asked us if we had done any analysis of how their Regulation Plan 2012 has “balanced upstream and downstream interests”. And Bill Bialkowski (after some thoughts including why doesn’t the USACE and ECCC do this work and report this publicly?) agreed to do the analysis. After several weeks of work Bill has been able to show/demonstrate that in fact the IJC’s ILSBC not only did not “balance interests” but in fact raised MH/GB levels slightly by increasing the Superior discharges beginning in 2020. And that happened when our levels were headed to a new record high. So, instead of “balancing upstream and downstream interests, the IJC’s ILSBC raised our levels. It was our organization together with Restore Our Water International that tried in 2020 to bring attention to this failure by the IJC. As we all know the economic and ecological damages caused by the recent extreme high levels are only exacerbated by every inch or centimeter the levels rise to set new records. So every inch counts when levels are at their extremes.

The IJC, by its Orders of Approval, are more concerned about high levels on Lake Superior than on all of the middle Great Lakes. Our conclusion from Bill’s yet again incredible exposure of the IJC’s failure is; Plan 2012 is not robust enough to address extreme water supplies that are occurring due to a changing climate. We need a “21st Century regulation plan” that directly incorporates hydrologic observations including St. Clair River flows into its internal forecasting routines. Relying solely on the statistics of past water supplies limits the adaptability of Plan 2012 to meet the needs of changing climate.

So where do we GBGLF go from here? We have been working on this failure by the IJC since 2003 including funding and releasing Baird Report I that found erosion in the St. Clair River was a contributing factor to the recent 14 years of extreme low levels 1999 to 2013. And as we reported earlier this year, the massive 2021 St. Clair River ice jam may have begun another St Clair River erosion event but without 2021 St Clair River bathymetry to compare with earlier data it is impossible to determine the impact on our levels. We are now considering working on a university level research project to confirm Bill’s recent findings and to yet again undertake research that will publicly expose the IJC’s failure to “balance upstream and downstream interests “. Whether we can do that will depend on donations. This is not a challenge that we undertake lightly. Baird Report I in 2003 cost $250,000. This will require significant donations. As Roy Schatz said to us before his passing – “do not give up on water levels – our sound science on this will eventually prevail”. And if we dont do this critical assessment – who will?

And remember we are all volunteers with no full time paid staff. If you have questions please get in touch.

On behalf of our entire board and all our wonderful donors,
Mary Muter, Chair, Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation

PS. We are looking for a few new board members. Interested in our research – water levels, water quality, wetlands, SAR turtles? Want to learn more? Contact Us!

Here is how to donate so we can continue this important scientific research following Roy Schatz’s wishes.

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