Tag Archives: Lake Superior

A Look Back – 2012 Marina’s Scramble as Water Levels Dropped

We tend to focus on the here and now. However its great to step back and take a look at the recent past. Five years ago the entire Great Lakes was witness to low water levels not seen since 1964. Marina’s were dredging, boats were being damaged on shallow reefs not seen a generation and lake shipping was facing hard times.  There was serious concern on how far it would go and what would happen next.  Some credit the winter of 2014 with turning things around. With the lakes frozen over evaporation was minimized and the levels rebounded.  Here is a post from September 2012.

I got a voice mail early Monday morning from Hoy’s Saginaw Bay Marina in Caseville, “Mike, the wind was really blowing last night and we would like to get your sailboat out. It’s bouncing on the bottom.”  It was the last week in September and we usually try to squeeze one or two of the last day-sails in early October. However I had been monitoring the MichiganHuron lake levels an knew that we had a good chance of seeing a record low last seen in 1964. With a four foot draft we had already settled in the thick muck in our slip in August. I imagined our Catalina 27 hung fast and listing in the shallows. I called back, and Pete told me that they were looking to get all the sailboats out. I told him to go ahead and pull her out. I would see him on the weekend.

Caseville Harbor

Pulling into the marina Melissa and I were shocked to see the boat yard full of boats on hard dock in late September. Over the week the Hoy’s crew managed to get all of the big Trawlers out and most of the “Sticks”. (Sailboats)  When we rolled in, there were two boats idling in what was left of the narrow channel waiting to be hauled out. We took a walk up toward the break wall of Caseville harbor and noticed the inner most red can channel buoy hard aground just outside the Huron Yacht Club. This is the mark where I drop our speed in order to not make a wake as we enter the inner harbor. We took shots around the break wall and back just outside the HYC which you can see here.

Channel Bouy Aground at Caseville Harbor
Channel Bouy Aground at Caseville Harbor

Caseville Harbor

The Official Account

The US Army Corps of Engineers noted that Lake Michigan-Huron is 12 inches lower than its level of a year ago. Lakes St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario are down 14, 15, and 10 inches, respectively, lower than their levels of a year ago. Over the next month, Lake Superior is forecast to drop another 1 inch from its current level, while Lake Michigan-Huron is expected to fall another 2 inches. The Corps noted that as of now Lake Superior and Lake Michigan-Huron are below chart datum. They are in record low territory. At this point we are wondering if we will be able to get “Trillium” back into the water next Spring.

Low Water Make Narrow Channel At Caseville Harbor
Low Water Make Narrow Channel At Caseville Harbor



Lies and Half Truths about Great Lakes Water Use

The blogosphere and news sites have been bristling that Barack Obama  allowed water from Great Lakes region to be pumped and sold to China.  It’s a Lie. What’s worse is that none of these blog authors are checking the facts. Their lazy practice is to re-blog poorly written posts from  inflammatory sites. Here is the Truth.

Lie #1 – Obama Allowed Great Lakes Water to Be Sold To China as Half the U.S. Faces Extreme Water Crisis

This common inflammPort Cresent State Park Beach South IIatory headline refers to the ability for companies to bottle water within the Great Lakes watershed. Quotes such as, “Why are we allowing foreign corporations such as Nestle to make millions upon millions of dollars pumping water out of the Great Lakes and selling it overseas?” This is not new news. Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Avita and Nestle have been operating in Michigan and surrounding states for over 15 years. At least now, Nestle and other companies are operating under the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact enacted by the 110th United States Congress effective December 8, 2008 before Obama took office.  This Public Law 110-342 was introduced in the Senate by Carl Levin (D – Michigan) on July 23, 2008 passed the Senate on August 1, 2008 by unanimous consent, passed the House of Representatives on September 23, 2008 and finally signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008.

Half-Lie #2 – Companies are pumping millions of gallons of water out of the Great Lakes and selling it to China.

There is bit of truth to this. Companies can collect and bottle water in the Great Lakes region but only in containers of 5.7 gallons or less. nestle_waterHowever the collection of water is not directly from the lakes but from the aquifers in the region.  Since 2000, Nestle Waters North America sell bottled “Spring Water” marketed with the Ice Mountain label. It’s bottling centers are located in Mecosta County, Michigan and Guelph, Ontario. Each plant supposedly bottles 700,000 gallons a day. However a a 2000 report by the International Joint Commission noted that the Great Lakes basin imports 14 times the amount of bottled water that is withdrawn and shipped elsewhere.

Lie #3 – Obama allowed container ships to come into the Great Lakes, fill up and export our water to Asia.

Long before Obama was a national politician Canada was looking to sell Great Lakes water wholesale. In 1998 the Nova Group obtained a permit from Canada’s Ontario Ministry of the Environment to export approximately 160 million gallons per year of water from Lake Superior for export to Asia in bulk containers. The permit was revoked due to objections of Great Lakes governors and citizens.

Lie #4 – Foreign companies are pumping water out of the Great LakesBottled Water without limits.

Nestle has been operating a water bottling plant in Michigan since 2000. In 2009 the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation sued Nestle Waters North America/Ice Mountain. A final, out-of-court settlement was reached in 2009, whereby Nestle/Ice Mountain’s water pumping permit was reduced by almost half. Nestlé agreed to lower its spring pumping in Michigan earlier in the spring during fish spawning and continue low pumping during the summer months to protect the already stressed stream and lake. Other companies that bottle water from the Great Lakes region include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Avita.

The Waukesha Solution

great lakes watershedThe newst threat comes from right nearby. The Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, with a dangerous levels of radium in their ground water has been approved  to “borrow” up to 8.4 million gallons of Lake Michigan water every day (or 3 billion gallons every year). Waukesha is 17 miles west of Lake Michigan and resides on the custsp of being outside what is considered the Great Lakes Water basin. Normally water from that area would flow into the Mississippi.

The city of Waukesha in June 2016 was given approval to divert water from Lake Michigan for its drinking water supply after eight representatives from the states that border the Great Lakes voted unanimously to allow the diversion. A single no vote would have scuttled the city’s plan. Per the rules of the compact, Waukesha would have to return the same amount of water it takes from Lake Michigan back into the lake. The water would be treated at a Waukesha water plant and dumped into the Root River, where it would flow into Lake Michigan by way of Racine, Wisconsin.

Waukesha is the first city to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water since a ban on such practices was enacted in 2008. Canada is reviewing the agreement and may interceede with the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

There Are Still Concerns

Channel Bouy Aground at Caseville Harbor
Channel Bouy Aground at Caseville Harbor

The largest, longest-standing and most controversial diversion from the Great Lakes is at Chicago, where the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, finished in 1900, reverses the Chicago River and connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. About 88% of all Great Lakes water diversion occurs in Illinois to the Mississippi.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1967 consent decree, limited the Lake Michigan water diversion through the Chicago canal to 3,200 cubic feet of water per second.

But there’s more water diverted into the Great Lakes than is diverted out; particularly at the Longlac and Ogoki diversions in Ontario. They take water bound for Hudson Bay and divert it to northern Lake Superior at 5,580 cubic feet per second. The diversions were initially created to bolster hydroelectric power generation to help wartime manufacturing in the U.S. during World War II, but then were maintained by mutual agreement between the U.S. and Canada after the war.

Great Lakes Ice Coverage Now a Concern

This winter the Great Lakes experienced near record ice coverage. In March 2014 NOAA reported 92.2% of the Great Lakes were frozen. A record only Historic Ice Coverage 2014surpassed in 1979 with over 94% total ice coverage. This deep freeze over the Great lakes was viewed warmly as ice tends to prevent evaporation of the lakes and provide recovery for lake levels during the spring thaw. The coverage also ment that most of Michigan experienced a very sunny, albeit cold winter. All of the Great Lakes experienced record low water levels in early 2014. Matching levels 50 years ago in 1964.

Effects of Cold Winter Linger

This week Environment Canada posted a report showing lake ice still at an amazing 37% coverage. The coverage is primarily occurring on Lake Superior. Below normal temperatures and ongoing Ice Coverage Huronsnow fall is still occurring regularly the UP of Michigan. It’s estimated that most of the Great lakes will not be totally ice-free until mid May.

Local Impact

The ice has impacted harbor towns across the Great Lakes. Marquette Michigan’s newspaper Mining Journal reported that Marquette harbor is open – roughly two weeks later than normal. Ice breakers provided by the U.S. Coast Guard had to escort two Source: Mining Journalfreighters into the harbor this week. One freighter, The Barker delivered coal to the Presque Isle power plant. The delay in the shipping season forced We Energies to acquire reserve coal stock from  Marquette Board of Light and Power.

In Michigan’s Thumb, the long winter season has delayed work at Port Austin harbor.


2013 Great Lakes Water Levels Continue Recovery

Lakes Improve in 2013

 The final forecast of the year for the Great Lakes water levels were published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on December 6th. The report shows Lake Superior forecasted to be near its long term mean and improvements in Huron-Michigan.

Lake Superior Water Level 2013Huron-Michigan Water Leverl 2013

For the first time in two years forecast show the Lake Superior levels nudging toward the long term mean. Lakes Michigan and Huron improve from record setting lows recorded in January 2013

The End of Drought Conditions in the Upper Midwest.

 This improvement mirrors the progress with respect to drought conditions across the U.S. When compared to conditions going into 2012, drought conditions in the Great Lakes region have stabilized and improved.  

Drought 2011-2012 U.S.
Drought 2011-2012 U.S.
Drought 2012-2013 U.S.
Drought 2012-2013 U.S.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL