Dropping Great Lakes water levels an economic concern

by MM&D Online Staff

OTTAWA, Ontario—Today’s release of a report, “Low Water Blues”, commissioned by the Council of the Great Lakes Region and conducted by the Mowat Centre for Public Policy at the University of Toronto on the economic impact of declining  water levels in the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River clearly demonstrates the enormous possible negative economic impact.

If future water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River remain near the low end of the historic range for sustained periods, the long-term economic impact on the region could reach $18.82 billion by 2050, according to the study.

Based on historical data for water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin and data for five key economic sectors, Low Water Blues projected the future economic impacts of reduced water levels using a plausible climate change scenario that projects future water levels near the low end of the historic range.

Since 1997/98, much of the basin has experienced the longest extended period of lower water levels since coordinated measurement began in 1918. The study concludes there could be significant economic fallout from a continuation of these lower water levels into the future — 9.61 billion dollars over the period from the present through 2030 and 18.82 billion dollars from now through to 2050.

Water levels rebounded to some degree throughout the region beginning in late 2013 due to cooler temperatures across the basin and the extensive lake ice coverage and snowfall of winter 2013/14. But it is unclear if the rebound marks an end to the low water trend, or if it represents an outlier, as recently suggested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

According to Council of the Great Lakes Region CEO Mark Fisher, the study’s findings are an important starting point for U.S. and Canadian governments as they look for ways to adapt to or mitigate the potentially costly uncertainty and variability of future water levels in the region.

“With an overall impact of nearly $2 billion to shipping, we are greatly concerned with what this ecological problem could do to our industry, which is such an important part of North American trade,” said Canadian Shipowners Association president Robert Lewis-Manning.

“It is clearly time for stakeholders to be engaged in understanding the consequences of doing nothing to protect this unique ecosystem and instead actively promote sustainable and safe transportation in this integrated system.”

The CSA, which was represented on the study’s advisory committee, is supportive of efforts to examine long-term mitigation efforts.

The full report can be downloaded here.