Report shows dramatic impact of lower Great Lakes water levels

Jun 30, 2014

Credit File photo

A new report from Ontario paints a gloomy economic picture as a result of continued low water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. It could cost the U.S. and Canada more than $19 billion by the year 2050.

The report comes from the Mowat Centre and Council of the Great Lakes Region, a public policy think tank in Ontario. It says water levels fell dramatically in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Basin dramatically in 1998 and since then, the region has experienced the longest extended period of low water levels since the two countries began tracking those levels nearly a century ago.      

The head of the council, Mark Fisher, warns of what he describes as "a very real future" of a region struggling with low water levels. Last year, for example, Lakes Michigan and Huron had the lowest water level ever recorded.

The report suggests those sustained low levels come with an economic fallout to a region that generates nearly $5 trillion  for the U.S. and more than $5 billion for Canada, about 28 percent of the combined U.S. and Canadian economic activity.   With 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater supply industries facing the impact include hydroelectricity, commercial shipping as well as recreational boating and fishing.

Fisher says there has generally been more evaporation and less precipitation, which means less water in the system. Climate change is also a related issue and Fisher says collaboration between the U.S. and Canada are essential to protecting the future of the Great Lakes.

He says climate change is taking place and the impact on water levels in the Great Lakes is significant. While the Lakes are a vast body of water, he says they are not an infinite resource.