This has been a strange, new-world summer as we dealt both with COVID 19 and extreme high water levels on our Bay. Adjusting our lives to prevent COVID spread is now with us until vaccines are widely available.  But tolerating the economic and ecological damages, including the loss of precious wetland and fish habitat caused by extreme IJC defined “crisis” levels, is unacceptable given that both the IJC and Ontario’s OPG could have taken measures to lower our levels.

Under pressure from well-organized and generously funded Lake Ontario shoreline property owners groups on both sides of the border, the IJC did act and, beginning last spring, released very significant amounts of water off Lake Ontario. Now Lake Ontario is close to its long-term average and 50cm or 20” below the level of last year at this time.  Just compare that to Lake Michigan Huron and Georgian Bay, where we are 10 cm or 4” above the level of last year at this time and almost 90 cm or 2.9 feet above our long-term average.

None of the other Great Lakes is as far above its long-term average. Superior is only 11 inches above its long-term monthly average. Why, then, did the IJC direct the Lake Superior Board of Control to discharge amounts significantly above their 2012 Regulation Plan?  Why is Lake Superior held to a 4-foot range and we now have a 6.5-foot range? Wetlands biologists know that a range of 5 to 5.5 feet benefits wetlands diversity but, beyond that, harm occurs. The IJC and the Ontario government are ignoring the huge economic and environmental costs of their “do nothing to help approach.” For whose benefit?  These questions need answers. We will continue to push for satisfactory answers with your support.

The graph below tells a story that our government agencies are ignoring.

It is clear from this graph (source – ECCC and USACE reports) that for the past 6 years the water has been unable to get off our part of the Great Lakes. This, plus the images below, point to a problem once again in the St. Clair River.

Both these slides were used in recent webinars that we held with Restore Our Water International (of which we are a founding member).

 

Link for reference:

 http://lre-wm.usace.army.mil/ForecastData/GLBasinConditions/LTA-GLWL-Graph.pdf

What is wrong with this picture? The highest quality, most diverse, most extensive wetlands in all the Great Lakes (according to McMaster U Prof Chow-Fraser) are found on the shores of Georgian Bay on glacial till sediments scattered among the 30,000 Precambrian Shield granite islands.

But all these wetlands are now flooded with very significant loss of wetland habitat since the plants cannot migrate inland where there are trees and granite shorelines. So there is no shallow water wetland protected habitat for small fish – minnows, sunfish, young of the year bass, pike and musky. The small fish are in open water and are being eaten by the larger fish. This will impact fish populations for years to come. If this was all part of a natural cycle we would have to accept it but it is not. Read about the excess discharges the IJC is allowing from Lake Superior and the measures that the IJC and the Ontario government could take to alleviate these conditions.

McMaster researchers since 2003 have set out special fyke nets (with MNRF permits) to assess fish populations. But beginning in 2019 they have had great difficulty doing that. This photo shows McMaster researcher Danielle Montocchio trying to set up the nets in among dead standing pine trees and shrubs – an almost impossible task. There is now in 2020 another row of dead trees along these shorelines.

This year McMaster have tried to set up underwater cameras to capture fish movement but even using some high level technology this method is not working. So over the winter we will be helping to raise funds to be better able to carry out this assessment. More sophisticated underwater equipment is needed. No other organization or government agency is doing this work so we need your help. If this is not documented and reported to our governments, the IJC and others will think this is just fine to allow water levels to fluctuate 6.5 feet on Georgian Bay when Lake Superior is tightly held to a range of 4 feet. Where is the “balance to interests upstream and downstream” that the IJC’s own criteria require?

So what can and needs to be done? We have the following advice for our government agencies.

  1. Request to Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry: Reduce Long Lac and Ogoki diversions temporarily now for emergency relief. There are 3 precedents for this – in the 1970s, 1980s and again as recently as 3 years in the 1990s, these diversions were reduced.
  2. That the IJC direct the Lake Superior Board of Control to compensate for the 360CM/s of extra flow that they directed from Dec. 2019 to March 2020.
  3. That the IJC require that the Lake Superior Board of Control reduce Lake Superior discharges to alleviate “Crisis” conditions downstream in order to meet their own stated criterion to “balance upstream and downstream interests”.
  4. That all parties involved face facts and act on them. So far the IJC and the Ontario government are using the excuse that these measures would reduce our levels by only a few centimeters. The reality is that if both the Long Lac and Ogoki diversions and the Lake Superior discharges to the North Channel had been reduced beginning in 2014, when we hit IJC-defined “crisis alert high conditions”, the level of Lakes Michigan/Huron/Georgian Bay would now be 8 inches or 20 cm below our current level. That is NOT “only a few centimeters”, as letters from officials and agencies state. To not take these actions is simply irresponsible of the IJC and the Government of Ontario.
  5. To both Federal governments: Request that the IJC undertake an immediate review of IJC Regulation Plan 2012. We need accurate St. Clair River flows and depths measured across the river’s entire width and length, not just the US side, in order to better understand this unstable riverbed, which Baird Report 1 (2004) determined was eroding. Such erosion likely continued until 2010. This is the only connecting Great Lakes channel that has no official government oversight. The other channels have Control Boards that meet monthly and set discharge amounts. The St. Clair River has nothing even close to that.

With the generous help of you, our donors, we will continue to support/advocate for these essential measures.

In the fall we will report on our water-quality work with Prof. Pat Chow-Fraser (with  Township of Georgian Bay funding support) and on her researchers’ work on wetlands and turtle habitat assessment. All this work has been challenging, as we have to follow McMaster University’s COVID 19 research rules. But we are getting this critical research  done.

To make certain we can continue, please update your donations.

Please donate to GBGLF through the Huronia Community Foundation charity so that we can continue to support Pat Chow-Fraser’s important research and so that we can get to meetings around the Great Lakes to demand action by governments and their agencies, including the IJC. As soon as the COVID 19 crisis is over, we also need to renew our engagement with the Washington law firm that previously arranged our meetings with elected officials and their agencies. There, Mary Muter and Roger Gauthier, with their wealth of knowledge and experience, can educate them and stimulate needed government action.

To meet the immediate need of $50,000 for effective work by GBGLF, and to receive a tax receipt please donate generously as follows:

PREFER TO DONATE BY MAIL? HERE’S HOW…

Please make out your cheque to Huronia Community Foundation and mark in the notation line
for Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation
and mail it to:
Huronia Community Foundation, P.O. Box 324, Midland, Ontario, L4R 4L1

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To ensure that we credit the right fund, ask that donations be directed to:
Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation Fund 

 

Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation is an Ontario registered not-for-profit
affiliated with the federally-registered charity, Huronia Community Foundation

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