Study sought of drain in lakes
Written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
Friday, 04 March 2005 02:45
Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller said Wednesday that she will seek $2.5 million in funding to study whether a federal dredging project ...

...?on the St. Clair River has indeed created a massive amount of riverbed erosion that is costing Lakes Michigan and Huron almost a billion gallons of water per day.

The announcement follows a separate study released in January by a coalition of conservation groups charging that a 1962 Army Corps of Engineers dredging project effectively pulled the plug on the main outflow for Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are actually one body of water.

That study, paid for with $200,000 in private donations from Canada's Georgian Bay Association, claims the dredging has led to ongoing erosion that has quickened the flow of the river and, as a result, is sending an average of 845 million extra gallons a day tumbling over Niagara Falls and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Miller, a Republican whose district hugs the Lake Huron shore, said in a Wednesday news release that the erosion issue deserves the same attention as the controversial notion of diverting water to thirsty communities outside the Great Lakes basin .

"I have always said I would oppose any attempts to divert our precious water, and this potential overflow of water is nothing more than a diversion of water out of the Great Lakes basin," she said. "If this theory of erosion in the St. Clair River is correct, what is happening currently dwarfs any concept of diversion we have ever imagined."

By comparison, the 67,000 residents of the city of Waukesha consume, on average, about 7 million gallons a day. Waukesha, which lies just beyond the Great Lakes basin dividing line, has expressed interest in acquiring Great Lakes water.

A second opinion

The $2.5 million would pay for a new study to validate or reject the findings in the conservationists' study, which was conducted by a respected engineering firm, W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers. The funding would also pay for a three-dimensional model for water flow in the river and suggest possible solutions to the increased outflow, if it is proved true.

Miller will ask that the funds be included in the reauthorization of the federal Water Resources Development Act.

"It's money well spent, for a number of reasons -- not only to get to the bottom of the 'hole' in the St. Clair River, but also to develop an accurate model of how water flows through these connecting channels," said Dennis Schornack, the U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission, a binational body created by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to prevent and resolve disputes over waters shared by the U.S. and Canada.

Schornack noted that riverside communities in both the U.S. and Canada draw their drinking water from the St. Clair, which is heavily industrialized.

"We need to understand how pollutants, in the form of spills, perhaps might flow," he said.

Conservationists said Wednesday that they were happy that someone stepped forward with proposed legislation so quickly.

"This is exactly the sense of urgency we wanted to see from our federal representatives here in the U.S.," said Jennifer Nalbone of the conservation group Great Lakes United.

The Baird study charges that the difference in elevation between Lakes Michigan and Huron and Lake Erie has been shrinking. Nobody denies that. But some have said the shrinking could be caused by more precipitation falling in the Lake Erie basin. Another possible reason is that the Earth's crust is still rebounding from the last ice age, and the crust could be rising under Lake Erie faster than under Lakes Michigan and Huron.

The Baird study dismisses both possible explanations.

Scientists to 'vet' first study

In a matter unrelated to Miller's funding request, a meeting is scheduled later this month in Ontario, where Baird engineers will meet scientists from various Canadian and U.S. agencies, "to basically vet the study," said Schornack.

"I think they (Canadian and U.S. governments) know they have a problem and hopefully, if the money gets appropriated, it will not only verify the Baird findings but it will get the Corps and IJC to start taking action to address the problem," said Tim Eder, director of water resources for the National Wildlife Federation.

Some conservationists have said fixing the problem could be as simple as plugging the eroding areas of riverbed with well-placed rocks.

Miller, who grew up within sight of Lake St. Clair and has raced sailboats since the age of 15, said the value both political parties put on the Great Lakes gives her hope that the measure will pass.

"This is not a partisan issue. The water doesn't know if it's Republican or Democrat," Miller said at a meeting during Wednesday's "Great Lakes Day" in Washington, D.C., which is a chance for lawmakers to meet with experts and advocates.

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