Toronto – Scientists in Michigan presented evidence this weekend that suggests lower water levels in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are part of a 30-year decline in water levels that is consistent with many climate change projections. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Michigan published their findings in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology this past Saturday.
Other studies have predicted a permanent decline in water levels of one to four feet in Lakes Huron and Michigan by 2050, dramatically changing historic levels that have fluctuated within only six feet (1.8 metres) over the past 100 years.  Recent reports show that Lake Huron water levels are within two inches (5 centimetres) of their record low for the month of January and 16 inches (40 centimetres) lower than this time last year.  While cities across southern Ontario hit record high temperatures for January earlier this month, the potential effects of this heat on the lakes is becoming clear.  

“The consequences of global warming are hitting closer and closer to home,” said Aaron Freeman, Policy Director of Environmental Defence. “The health of the Great Lakes is essential to both the economy and natural environment of this region. It is a resource worth protecting.”

Lower lake levels have troubling impacts on local wildlife, public health, municipal infrastructure and cargo shipping.  Habitat is lost, public water systems are threatened, hydroelectric generation is vulnerable and low water levels force ships to carry less cargo, directly impacting the economy of the region.  In addition to the 40 million Canadians and Americans that depend on the region for their health and wellbeing, the $3.7 trillion economy that the Great Lakes region generates is at risk.

“This study represents mounting evidence that the prognosis for the Great Lakes is dire without significant, immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist at Ecojustice Canada. “Without action we will continue to witness the decline of our beloved Great Lakes, an internationally significant freshwater ecosystem.”

This recent report suggested that increased evaporation was the likely culprit for the decline in water levels, further evidence in support of a link between Great Lakes water levels and global warming. Other Great Lakes have locks or gates that can control water levels, but Huron and Michigan do not. As a result, they are especially vulnerable to water level threats such as global warming.

Last September, Environmental Defence, Ecojustice Canada (formerly Sierra Legal) and four other Canadian environmental groups published the Great Lakes Blueprint: A Canadian Vision for Protecting and Restoring the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Ecosystem (available at www.environmentaldefence.ca and www.ecojustice.ca). The Blueprint outlines recommendations that Canadian governments need to take to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

About Environmental Defence: Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, safe food and thriving ecosystems. Nationwide.

About Ecojustice Canada: Ecojustice goes to court to defend the right of Canadians to a healthy environment. We are Canada’s largest and foremost non-profit environmental law organization. Our trusted voice in the courts enables citizens to expose lawbreakers and hold governments accountable, all while setting powerful precedents for clean water, natural spaces, healthy communities and for global warming solutions.
 
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)
Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Ecojustice Canada, (416) 368-7533 ext. 27; (416) 564-4400 (cell)