Options for “Restoring” Great Lakes Water Levels are Limited

The release of a report by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board today could have a direct impact on Great Lakes water levels and the overall health of its ecosystem.

The report looks at restoration options for the St. Clair River to slow water losses from Lakes Michigan-Huron. These options seem a bit limited, however, as they all include placing some kind of multi-million dollar structure on the river bed or in the river itself.

Not sure why the Study Board didn’t examine options for ecological restoration especially at a time when there is such a strong dedication to restoration projects throughout the Great Lakes region.

Jennifer Aitkens\Flickr

The end goal is important: to compensate for years of dredging for shipping traffic in the St. Clair River causing erosion of the river bed and thus water losses through the river, drying out wetlands upstream and causing the water tables of Lakes Michigan-Huron to drop.

Structural options presented in the report could reduce habitat for wildlife such as the threatened lake sturgeon population and could also become hot beds for invasive zebra mussel population growth. Also, many of these options require someone at controls, deciding “appropriate” water levels.

We need to encourage more creativity rather than limit options solely to pricey, politically-complicated structures.


Ecological restoration options could involve restoration of shoreline wetland habitat in areas of hardened shorelines or old industrial sites along the river. The Study Board could also look at building up the river bottom in a way that doesn’t disrupt wildlife by using naturally-occurring sediment.

Shoreline wetlands would restore a closer-to-natural flow of the river and provide benefits to human communities, wildlife and overall water quality of the Great Lakes. Plus according to a Brookings Institution finding every $1 spent on restoration projects in the Great Lakes gives a $2 return on investment.

The Study Board plans to host public meetings to present the findings of the study.

As soon as dates have been set, take action and attend a meeting. Your voice is important to the overall health and function of the Great Lakes.

Call upon the Study Board to examine options for ecological restoration that are not only less expensive but also help, rather than hinder, wildlife.

The International Joint Commission, the bi-national body with a role to manage these waters wisely and to protect them for the benefit of today’s citizens and future generations, commissioned this ongoing study.