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Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.
The story is the same throughout the Great Lakes. During my summer research trip to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, I lost track of the number of submerged docks and buildings; swimming near the shore of Lake Huron was a bad idea because of the high risk of electrocution from inundated boathouses that still had the juice flowing.
Water - Levels - Great - Lakes - Change
Water levels in the Great Lakes have always fluctuated. But climate change is throwing past patterns out of whack. Almost every Great Lake reached record levels in 2019. And the latest studies predict that levels might reach even higher in 2020.
But instead of engineered solutions, we should be concentrating on getting out of the way.
Research - Ways - Canada - United - States
My research looks at the ways that Canada and the United States, along with the bilateral International Joint Commission, have tried to understand and control water in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin for well over a century.
Both countries have made large diversions in and out of the Great Lakes, such as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, as well as numerous smaller diversions and canals.
Dams - St - Lawrence - River - Pool
In the 1950s, dams along the St. Lawrence transformed this gigantic river into a hydropower pool and navigation channel and, controversially, to help regulate water levels in Lake Ontario. Control works in the St. Marys River partially regulate Lake Superior. Niagara Falls is treated like a tap to generate both hydropower and beauty. Then there is the 100-plus years of perpetually dredging channels and harbors for navigation.
Cumulatively, these anthropogenic interventions have likely changed water levels on the lakes by less than one meter.
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