Water Level Losses to Lakes Michigan, Huron Put Focus on St. Clair River

Pressure is mounting on the U.S. and Canadian governments to explore ways to restore water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron that have been lowered nearly two feet due to historic dredging on the St. Clair River. The two lakes, which are actually one body of water connected at the Straits of Mackinac, have been below their long-term average for more than a decade, and forecasters say in the coming months they could plunge below their record low.

Now an organization of 90 mayors representing more than 15 million residents in cities across the Great Lakes region is telling the International Joint Commission that it is "dissatisfied" with a recent study that determined restoring lake levels by installing some type of structure to repair damage done to the St. Clair River would be a costly project that could take decades and ultimately do more harm than good.

The St. Clair River is the primary outflow of Lakes Michigan and Huron, and a deeper river channel means more water can flow out of the lakes, into Lake Erie, over Niagara Falls and, ultimately, out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The mayors group is asking the Joint Commission, a binational board that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on boundary waters issues, to further investigate engineering options to raise lake levels in order "to compensate for human activities, notably dredging in the St. Clair River over the past decades."

The request from the mayors group was submitted as part of a public comment process for a $17 million Great Lakes water level study that began five years ago.

It is a study that has been plagued by controversy from the start, including the fact that it was co-chaired by an employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which many view as a source of the problem because it has a history of dredging in the St. Clair River to open Lakes Michigan and Huron to deep-draft navigation.