U.S. Water News Online
CLEVELAND -- The newest update to a Lake Erie management
plan predicts global warming will lead to a steep drop in water
levels over the next 64 years, a change that could cause the lake's
surface area to shrink by up to 15 percent.
The drop could undo years of shoreline abuse by allowing water to
resume the natural coastal circulation that has become blocked by
structures, experts said.
Updated annually, the plan is required by the Great Lakes Water
Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. It is
developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environment
Canada and state and local governments with help from the shipping
industry, sports-fishing operators, farm interests, academics and
The newest update addresses for the first time, when, where and
how the shoreline will be reshaped. It says the water temperature of
Lake Erie has increased by one degree since 1988 and predicts the
lake's level could fall about 34 inches. It also says the other Great
Lakes will lose water.
If the projections are accurate, Lake Erie would be reduced by
one-sixth by late this century, exposing nearly 2,200 square miles of
land and creating marshes, prairies, beaches and forests, researchers
Researchers said new islands are appearing in the western basin,
where Lake Erie is at its lowest and some reefs are about 2 feet
"There is now stronger evidence than ever of human-induced climate
change," states the report, dated this spring. "Our climate is
expected to continue to become warmer. This will result in
significant reductions in lake level, exposing new shorelines and
creating tremendous opportunities for large-scale restoration of
highly valued habitats."
A predicted drop in water levels also has been addressed by the
International Joint Commission, an American-Canadian panel that
controls water discharges out of Lake Superior and the St. Lawrence
River. The commission told scientists at a workshop in February that
research showed water levels should begin decreasing before 2050.
"We can try to be positive about climate change, really positive,"
said Jeff Tyson, a senior fisheries biologist at the Ohio Department
of Natural Resources, who helped write a portion of the management
plan. "If it continues to be hot, once you lose that meter of water
over the top, we get an entirely natural, new shoreline along a lot
of the lakefront. If we manage it right, things could look a lot like
they did when the first white settlers arrived."
The report was written in an effort to spark thought about what
the shoreline could become, said Jan Ciborowski, a professor at the
University of Windsor who specializes in aquatic ecology and also
helped write the plan.
"There is a lot of opinion among scientists who study the Great
Lakes that we need to get the public to start thinking: 'What are
things going to look like?"' Ciborowski said.
The plan monitors issues ranging from pollution to invasive
species, said Dan O'Riordan, an EPA manager at the Great Lakes
National Program Office in Chicago. He said the agency recognizes the
views of experts who predict the lake will shrink.
"They've done the math; I would trust the math," he said.
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