New Committee Will Use Adaptive Management to Monitor Water Levels

IJC staff
IJC
February 24, 2015
New Committee Will Use Adaptive Management to Monitor Water Levels

Can the IJC’s efforts to regulate water levels and flows be improved as new science and understanding is developed? A new Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee will carry out the monitoring, modeling and assessment needed to answer this question, as conditions in the basin change over time.

Water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River fluctuate by several feet over years in response to long-term trends in rain, snow and evaporation. These fluctuations affect the loads that freighters can carry, where recreational boats can dock, the severity of coastal damage during storms, and the health of fish and wildlife habitat.

The IJC has approved regulation plans for dams regulating outflows from lakes Superior and Ontario. In addition, the IJC set criteria for regulating levels in part of the upper Niagara River.

These regulation plans and criteria are implemented by the IJC-appointed Lake Superior, St. Lawrence River and Niagara boards of control. While water levels and flows are mainly determined by natural factors, regulation helps moderate the extreme highs and lows, and provides other benefits.

The Paul R. Tregurtha as it enters the Soo Locks. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Paul R. Tregurtha as it enters the Soo Locks. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In recent years, the IJC has conducted major studies to review its regulation plans, which had not been updated in decades. The Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study (2000-2006) reviewed regulation of levels and flows in the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system. The International Upper Great Lakes Study (2007-2012) reviewed conditions in the Upper Great Lakes and the regulation plan for the outflows of Lake Superior.

Waves along Lake Michigan. Credit: Tom Gill
Waves along Lake Michigan. Credit: Tom Gill

These studies gathered data and produced models and performance indicators that help determine how the regulation of water levels and flows affects different socio-economic interests and the environment. By maintaining and updating the knowledge gained during these studies, the GLAM Committee will provide information to allow the boards of control to evaluate the regulation of water levels and flows on an ongoing basis, without undertaking major new studies.

The GLAM Committee resulted from the work of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Task Team that the IJC appointed to explore how to implement adaptive management in those waters and advise its regulation boards.

Adaptive management is a structured, iterative process for continually improving management by learning from the outcomes of previous policies and practices. In other words, adaptive management is applying knowledge gained from experience.

The GLAM Committee will report to the Lake Superior, Niagara and St. Lawrence River boards of control. As more is learned and conditions change over time, this information will help the boards determine whether to recommend improvements to regulation plans. New regulation plans or criteria would need to be approved by the IJC after consulting with the public and U.S. and Canadian governments.

This is one of the ways the IJC will use adaptive management for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

A Birch Island boat dock in Michigan. Credit: Ray DumasA Birch Island boat dock in Michigan. Credit: Ray Dumas

IJC staff
IJC