The Great Lakes have lost water because of navigational dredging in the St. Clair River — 21 inches for Lakes Michigan and Huron, according to an International Joint Commission (IJC) study released this week. But are they continuing to decline? Is the opening in the river widening, draining increasing amounts of water from the upper Great Lakes?
Those are the questions the study by the IJC’s “International Upper Great Lakes Study Board” was supposed to lay to rest. But it fell far short. Sure, the study concluded that all the erosion was in the past, that the river was no longer widening, and so lake levels would not be affected in the future. The problem is that the study was deeply flawed, ignoring mounds of data and scientific studies that contradicted its conclusions.
And this study matters in a very practical way. It will be used by the IJC to determine whether remedial measures should be taken in the St. Clair River – perhaps even structures built – to return the lake levels and flows to a more natural state.
The Great Lakes deserve better than this study.
National Wildlife Federation’s Melinda Koslow and Dr. Mike Murray, who have been working to improve the study for over a year, provided more detail about the study’s flaws in this news statement released Tuesday; I’ve reprised that below. And for an excellent analysis, check out Dan Egan’s piece in the Milawaukee Journal Sentinel.
For immediate release:
December 15, 2009
FLAWS IN THE ST. CLAIR RIVER STUDY MAKE CONCLUSIONS DOUBTFUL
Despite multiple responses and scientific studies questioning findings, a report released today by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board, a U.S.-Canada expert panel established by the International Joint Commission, refused to change its controversial conclusions about water losses through the St. Clair River.
Their final report again concludes that there is no ongoing erosion in the St. Clair River and therefore an examination of possible remedial measures is not necessary.
This conclusion is a result of a multi-million dollar publicly funded study, and the best opportunity to address the issue of unnatural water losses from Lakes Michigan and Huron.
“Dredging and erosion in the St. Clair River has had a massive impact on Great Lakes water levels, and there’s substantial evidence that this erosion is continuing,” said Melinda Koslow, NWF’s Great Lakes Climate Safeguarding Manager. “But the study ignores or dismisses that evidence in concluding that erosion has stopped and no action should be taken. That ‘no action’ conclusion puts the Great Lakes at further risk.”
NWF identified a number of major problems with the Study Board’s report, including:
- Lack of acknowledgment of findings on potential erosion and other changes in the sediment bed of the river, and downplaying of significant changes in bathymetry (bottom depth) between 1971 and 2008.
- Failure to calculate or estimate flow of water losses through the River.
- Actively neglecting scientific studies that contradicted their conclusions.
“At a minimum, these findings raise the possibility of ongoing erosion of the St. Clair River bed over the past four decades, but it is not clear that the full Study Board has been open to this possibility,” said Michael Murray, Ph.D., Staff Scientist with NWF’s Great Lakes office.
“The way the Study was conducted makes us think that the results were pre-determined. The Study authors blocked the kind of transparency a public process normally encounters,” Koslow added.