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Outdoor Life - Outdoor life is a column by Mick Bohonis.
2012-02-03 at 11:47

Are our water levels in trouble?

Someone told me last week that Lake Superior’s water level is down by almost a metre.

Does anyone have any idea how much water that is in a lake the size of a sea? I mean one metre of water in Lake Superior’s total area is mind boggling to say the least. So why is the largest freshwater lake in the world starving for water?

It’s not just Lake Superior but rather all of our Great Lakes and the majority of our inland lakes and rivers throughout the Northwest that are way below what they should be.

While in Northern Ontario this fall on a fly-in bow hunt, the water levels in the Wabakimi wilderness area were scarily low, with rocks sticking out of the surface all over the place. It was very intimidating to someone who has never been on this body of water and had to navigate many kilometres daily to and from our hunting areas.

The number one culprit in all of the lower water levels is of course the lack of precipitation (whether snow or rain) and warmer than normal temperatures we have been experiencing the last couple of years.

Let’s face it folks, last summer was one of the hottest on record in our region, and we had an extremely dry spring.

Now it’s the first weekend in February and we are experiencing way below normal snow levels and of course temperatures that are very uncommon for this time of year.

January proved to be a scorcher of a month with the exception of a few days where it did indeed get in the upper –20s, however, we did not have a whole lot of snowfall.

As of 4 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2012 while sitting in my office writing this piece, we are at a balmy plus one with light rain; Regina sits at plus five and sunny and Toronto is at  plus 10 with a warm sun. My sister just emailed and said it was  plus 12 and downright balmy in Burlington. Is this normal for the end of January?

So what’s going to happen this spring if this keeps up?

If the water levels are this bad, how are we going to recover and get back to normal?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks, but we need a lot of snow in the next couple of months and a lot of rain in the spring. If we don’t get it, things will get worse and we could be in big trouble.

Wells will go dry in the rural route, bans on any kind of fire will be enforced everywhere, including camp fires, the burning of brush and maybe even woodstoves and fireplaces for that matter.

Lakes will be shut down to anglers and our spring trout spawning season could be a catastrophic failure with the beds of streams dry.

The forest fire season will be bad, and it could heavily affect our fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and unless you have what it takes to do your best rain dance and make it stick, we may be in serious trouble.

Our Great Lakes have taken a beating and in many ports, dredging operations have become a priority in order to make sure our lake freighters and ocean going salties can get to their loading facilities at our grain elevators, coal docks and general loading terminals.
We are not the only ones who are experiencing the effects of low water levels.

Many other ports in Ontario and the U.S. such as Sault Ste Marie,  Duluth, Hamilton, Sault, Mich. and the list goes on are spending big dollars in dredging so normal operations can continue.

So the big question is how does this affect our local fishery?

Low water levels can be a huge factor in spring spawning especially for certain species of trout who navigate into the rivers and streams that are tributaries off of the Great Lakes and are the primary spawning grounds.

They become very vulnerable to predation as they will congregate in the most available water, which in most cases are small pools or back eddies where unethical anglers, or simply animals such as bears, otters, fishers and even eagles have easy pickings.
As much as we enjoy mild winter days and lesser snowfalls, in all reality it’s the worst thing that could happen.

Higher temperatures create early melt and run off that is critical to our water levels in the spring.

The lack of snow not only affects water levels, but also an insulating factor to many diverse things such as black bears or a city water main.

Complete opposites.

As crazy as that sounds both are reliant on the same system.

As fast as a frozen water main can break and erupt because of the lack of an insulating barrier on the ground, a hibernating bear can become hypothermic and succumb to the same demise.

Global warming is happening.


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