Great Lakes Water Levels
Lowest In Decades - "It's Unreal..."
By Nanda Tieri
Canadian Press
Tales of boaters hitting dry patches in lakes, fish habitats in jeopardy and boat docks overlooking wide expanses of soil instead of water are the talk of lakeside towns across Ontario.
Great Lakes water levels are at their lowest in a decade. Water levels in cottage-country areas of the province, where tourism is among the biggest industries, have reached all-time lows.
"It's just bone dry," said Jim Reed, who owns a bed-and-breakfast near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., that includes a boat with the cost of renting a room.
Boating might prove difficult this spring and summer at the Surf Side Bed and Breakfast in Echo Bay. Reed can walk 200 metres from the embankment on Lake George before the water gets deep enough to launch a small boat.
Everyday he shakes his head at the dry soil underneath his docks and fears financial ruin as tourist season approaches.
"It's unreal. It's unreal," said Reed.
The dry and record warm weather in 1998 caused water levels in the Great Lakes to drop dramatically over the past year. Levels are at their lowest in a decade, according to Environment Canada.
In the Great Lakes system, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario water levels are 50 to 65 centimetres lower than they were in April 1998.
Lake Superior's water level is 25 centimetres lower than it was a year ago, setting a record for lowest annual water supply for the lake this century.
Other lakes are also feeling the pinch.
In southern Ontario, Lake St. Clair is lower than it was last year by 50 to 65 centimetres.
The dry weather in the Great Lakes area for most of 1998 meant more water evaporated from the lakes and from the land, meaning there was far less run-off to replenish Ontario's smaller lakes.
It means boaters will have to be careful about the hazards associated with low waters this summer.
Public and private marinas are watching water levels closely and hoping they can accommodate boats that need deep water depths.
It's a big worry for Andy Clark, who says levels in the channel leading into his Lake Huron marina are up to 60 centimetres lower than normal.
While Clark can launch some of the larger boats he stores at a nearby government-run marina, next fall may be a different matter.
If water levels don't rise over the summer, it will be impossible to get 40-foot (12-metre) boats through the channel and into his marina to be lifted out of the water for winter storage.
It could even spell financial disaster if Clark's customers decide to choose one of the other marinas nearby that can accommodate larger boats.
Ontario cottagers are also being urged to be aware of the threats that low water levels pose to them.
"If you're boating in areas that are relatively shallow, the possibility of hitting the bottom and having people go overboard is increased," said Lawrence Swift, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Lower waters also mean shoals and rocks are closer to the surface so boaters who were able to travel over areas last summer need to exercise caution to avoid hitting them this summer.
In some areas of the province, low water levels are hampering the spawning habitats of fish.
In North Bay, low levels have stopped northern pike from reaching spawning areas. A watchful eye is also being kept on walleye spawn, especially from Lake Temagami in the north.
Industry too could suffer from the low water levels.
For commercial shippers, low water levels could mean their vessels stand the chance of running aground.
Along the St. Lawrence Seaway, shippers were forced to reduce cargo to get through the system last year and dozens of wells in the Kingston area ran dry.
And with lower flows, there is less water available for hydro-electric generation for the large generating plants on many of Ontario's biggest rivers, including the Niagara and the St. Lawrence.