Great Lakes Decline for Third
Water levels on all Great Lakes,
with the exception of Lake Ontario, have declined for the third year in
a row. At present, lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie are well below their
level of one year ago. On lakes Michigan and Huron, the last 24 months
have brought the sharpest two-year drop in recorded history, which goes
back to the 1860s. As we go to press in mid-May, Lake Superior has not
been lower at this time of the year since 1926 and lakes Michigan, Huron
and Erie have not been lower since the mid-1960s.
While water levels will be greatly
affected by the amount of precipitation and evaporation in the system,
continued low water levels can be expected in the Great Lakes, except
for Lake Ontario, during the next several months.
Anglers and boaters are dismayed
by Great Lakes
levels, down nearly one meter since 1997.
Currently, Lake Superior outflows
are being set according to its regulation plan, which attempts to
balance available water supplies among lakes Superior, Michigan and
Huron. On Lake Ontario, outflows have been reduced below what its
regulation plan calls for in order to store up to 10 centimeters (four
inches) of water. This is to provide greater flexibility for managing
Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River later in the season. Details on
the strategy for managing Lake Ontario outflows can be found on the
World Wide Web at:
The regulation of Lake Superior and
Lake Ontario outflows are the only two points where the International
Joint Commission can influence water levels in the system, but this
influence remains marginal in relation to the natural influences of
precipitation, evaporation and flows.
Given the outlook for low water, it
is by no means too early for those affected to consider what
alternatives may be available. Some of the actions that might be
considered include the following:
First and foremost, users of the
system should inform themselves of current conditions before
undertaking any activities that could be affected by low water.
Mariners should possess navigation charts and refer to current water
level gauge readings, which can be found on the Internet.
Boating facility operators who
are considering dredging should start the process now rather than
waiting until later in the season.
Municipalities should evaluate
whether low water levels could cause problems with water supply at
their intakes. They should also consider possible water contamination
problems because diffusion of treated wastewater may be different at
lower water levels.
Users of well water should
consider whether alternative sources of water supply will be necessary
because of possible impacts to ground water aquifers.
Local governments should
carefully consider new requests for shoreline development. While water
levels are currently low, higher levels will recur at some point in
In fact, this may be the best time
to prepare for higher levels by inspecting and repairing breakwalls,
seawalls and other infrastructure that is normally under water.
IJC Seeks Better Reporting to
Assess Progress on Great Lakes Water Quality
In a recent letter to the
governments of the United States and Canada, the International Joint
Commission (IJC) recommended that they begin using indicators to measure
and report on progress for three desired outcomes under the
Great Lakes Water Quality
-- fish that are safe for eating and water that is safe
for swimming and drinking.
The desired outcomes and their
indicators were developed by the IJC's Indicators Implementation Task
Force (IITF), whose final report was released in April. The IJC also
urged governments to continue work on implementing the remaining six
desired outcomes described in the report and to correct data
accessibility problems so that subsequent reports could address the full
slate of desired outcomes.
The IJC considers the indicators
approach to be central to its ability to carry out its responsibilities
under the Agreement. It is therefore essential that the governments make
the necessary data and information pertinent to these indicators and
measurements available to the IJC.
In 1996, the IJC adopted a framework
for assessing progress under the Agreement based on the work of its
Indicators for Evaluation Task Force. The framework, consisting of nine
Desired Outcomes with specific indicators and measurements for each, was
presented in the IJC's report,
Indicators to Evaluate
Progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
forwarded to governments in January 1997.
In 1997, the Commission established
the IITF to examine and consider how these nine desired outcomes and
their related ecosystem indicators could be implemented. Since good
quality data is essential for this activity, an important part of the
IITF's work was to assess the adequacy of existing data bases and
information related to these indicators. The Task Force found that while
more effort is needed to improve data collection and the quality of
data, sufficient data exists to support the use of indicators, at least
those associated with the three desired outcomes noted above.
The Indicators Implementation Task
Force Final Report is available at
or from an IJC office.
Report Identifies Economic
Benefits of Cleaning Up Contaminated Sediment
Contamination of the sediments at
the bottom of harbors and rivers is the major problem in the 42 Great
Lakes Areas of Concern, and it is a large problem. Only limited progress
has been achieved after $580 million has been spent on 38 sediment
remediation projects over the last 13 years. Over 80 percent of all
Areas of Concern have restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption,
degradation of bottom-dwelling organisms and loss of fish and wildlife
habitat due to potential links with contaminated sediment.
In recognition of the scope of the
problem and the limited progress in addressing it, the International
Joint Commission (IJC), in 1997, identified contaminated sediment as a
program priority. The Sediment Priority Action Committee (SedPAC) was
formed under the Great Lakes Water Quality Board from agency experts, as
well as the IJC's own advisory board members, to carry out this work.
SedPAC's final product is a recently released report on
Assessing the Economic Benefits of Contaminated Aquatic Sediment
Since the sediment problem is still
under assessment and management decisions are still required in 31 of
the Areas of Concern, it is hoped that the information in the report
will facilitate decision making and generate greater awareness of the
potential economic benefits associated with aquatic sediment cleanup.
The specific objectives of the report are to:
identify the types of potential
economic benefits that may result from aquatic sediment
assess the potential economic
identify areas for further
and Assessing the Economic Benefits of Contaminated Aquatic Sediment Cleanup
reports from SedPAC are available on the Internet at
http://www.ijc.org/conseil_board/water_greatlakes/glwqb_pub.php . Limited numbers of hard
copies are also available from IJC offices.
Susie Schreiber, Citizens
Advisory Group chair, explains how
contaminated sediments from
Waukegan Harbor (Illinois)
will be treated and contained during a a
recent Water Quality
Board visit to this Area of Concern. Credit:
Red River Update
The International Joint Commission
(IJC) has released the final report of its International Red River Basin
Task Force, which examines issues related to the flood of 1997 and
actions required to better prepare for floods of a similar magnitude in
the future. The report makes recommendations on flood management,
communities at risk, preparedness and resiliency, data and decision
support needs, and institutional mechanisms for better flood management.
Next Flood: Getting Prepared
may be viewed or downloaded at the
The IJC will prepare its final
report to the Governments of the United States and Canada after
considering public comment on the report of its Task Force received in
writing and at public hearings held May 15-17, 2000. Watch for more
details on the IJC's website or in future editions of
Community Health Assessment in
Areas of Concern
In 1909, when the
Boundary Waters Treaty
was signed, it was agreed that the boundary waters would not be polluted
on either side to the injury of health on the other side. However, by
1972, when the
Lakes Water Quality Agreement
was signed, there was concern that
boundary water quality was impaired to an extent that was causing injury
to health. The first requirement in preparing a Remedial Action Plan for
Areas of Concern is to describe the environmental problem, which should
include a definition of the threat to human health. The International
Joint Commission asked the Science Advisory Board to host a Workshop on
Community Health Assessment in Areas of Concern. On
October 4 and 5,
, workshop participants will examine health data and statistics
of the incidence of disease conditions in Areas of Concern, with a
special focus on Windsor, Ontario. Of interest are the diseases that
might be caused by exposures to pollutants and particularly the effects
that might be caused by endocrine disruptors and thereby influence the
quality of people's lives. Estimates will be made of the societal costs
of environmental disease and participants will discuss ethical aspects
of the disparities in the incidence of environmental diseases in
different subpopulations. Registration information will be available at
closer to the workshop.
IJC welcomes the recent
to its boards: