Concerns about Georgian Bay high water levels keep coming to council in waves

·6 min read

A 'slightly panicked' shoreline homeowner sought Tiny council's help in approaching higher authorities to exercise their influence in lowering water levels in Georgian Bay.

Frank Dunnigan made a case to his municipal elected officials, at a recent committee of the whole meeting, drawing for them the picture of the devastation created by the high water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

"You can see the devastation and decimation of the property," he said, showing photos of his property, which lost its walkout beach in 2019 and the deck in 2020. "To date, I still don't have a well line, the waves come in and take it away every time and there's nothing we can do about it."

Dunnigan said he was spurred to make this presentation after viewing the Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) and Georgian Bay Association (GBS) presentation to council last month.

"(They) made some very good points," he said, "but I felt some practical and factual points were omitted. So my intention is to fill in those blanks today."

Dunnigan went on to share facts he had gleaned directly from the websites of the Ontario Power Generation, International Joint Commission (IJC), Lake Superior Board of Control and more.

"As you can see from the Lake Superior Board of Control website, every month from December 2019 till March 2020, they dumped more water into Lakes Michigan-Huron than prescribed by their Plan 2012," said Dunnigan. "The GBA/GBF presentation claims the water has been held back since 2018. This is obviously not the case. I would describe this as callous disregard to the plight of Michigan-Huron and Georgian Bay."

He said his cottage is a full 20-feet back from the allowable high water building line, and they've tried to keep the beach dynamic and as natural as possible.

"To add to our misery, the OPG let loose an inordinate amount of water through the Long Lac dam," said Dunnigan. "Does this strike anyone as unfair? Does this look like there was concern for Michigan-Huron water levels? Does this look like there was discussion and coordination between affected parties?"

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District website, the difference from long-term monthly average for March is +26 inches. The data also shows the Lakes Michigan-Huron level is nine inches below the highest monthly average on record for March.

The long-time average surface water elevation level is 176.6 metres above sea level.

"I know Michigan-Huron has historically had higher swing levels, but should it be three times higher than Superior?" Dunnigan said, referring to the fact that Lake Superior is recorded at being seven inches higher than its monthly average. "Does that pass the test of fairness? Especially when they dump more water than prescribed."

The IJC may or may not have direct power, he said, but it has enormous influence.

"And that influence directly affects our lives here on the Great Lakes," Dunnigan said. "It's own water study recommends adjustments to diversion and dams in emergencies. Furthermore, there are precedents for this. Cutbacks at Long Lac and Ogoki have occurred in the past, in 1979, 1986, and 1996, why not now?"

The last time waters were this high was in 1986/1987, he said.

"The results were equally disastrous as today," said Dunnigan. "After that high water event, the IJC commissioned a multimillion dollar study to come up with action plans for high water emergencies. It was called the Levels Reference Study Board, and it had some of the greatest scientific minds involved in the project."

The report, he said, made some key recommendations.

"The authority necessary for deviation from the Lake Superior Regulation Plan during an emergency. similar to the authority to deviate that exists for Lake Ontario," says the report. "The installation of an ice boom at the head of the St. Clair River to reduce the risk of ice jams and flooding.

"An increase in the flow capacity of the Black Rock Lock. so the flow through the Lock may be increased in emergency situations by an additional 340 centimetres (12,000 cubic feet per second). The manipulation of the four major Great Lakes diversions; Long Lac, Ogoki, Lake Michigan at Chicago, and the Welland Canal during crisis situations when conditions permit."

Dunnigan said none of these recommendations have been implemented recently.

"And furthermore," he added, "the IJC says it cannot act upon these and they would have very little effect on these situation. I find it an astonishing rebuke on the scientific study and it begs a question: why are absolutely no actions being taken?"

The report also goes on to say, "The Board recommends that. prior to implementing the manipulations of diversions. the potential impacts within and outside the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River System of changes to the Long Lac, Ogoki, and Lake Michigan at Chicago diversions be determined."

In previous conversations with MidlandToday, Pierre Béland, co-chair of IJC, has indicated that the implications of making any changes would be devastating for those downstream.

Dunnigan wasn't satisfied with that response or what the GBF and GBA said at a seminar last year.

"I attended their three-hour symposium," he said. "It was three hours of explaining that nothing could be done, not one single suggestion. It was a constipated affair with nothing but jowel movement."

To residents like Dunnigan, he said, the message is that the IJC has no power and influence and that nothing can be done, and that the management of the situation has been perfect.

"The devastation of the properties, businesses and sensitive environmental areas says otherwise," he said. "Can we not spread the water a little more equitably?

"Throwing your hands in the air and saying it's all climate change is not going to help anyone in the short or long term," added Dunnigan. "We need the IJC to step in and show some equity and show some mercy to Georgian Bay/Huron for now and the future."

And that's why he was presenting to council asking they reiterate support of the Tay high water resolution and write directly write to the IJC, requesting more equity in distribution of upstream and downstream water. Dunnigan also asked Tiny to support the founding of a Great Lakes Water Level Advisory body to ensure more equitable distribution in water level emergencies.

Coun. Gibb Wishart said it would be a great idea to share Dunnigan's presentation with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

"We need to bring as many irons to this fire as we can," said the councillor. "We need to prod people in control."

Coun. Tony Mintoff took a more rounded view of the situation.

"I think it's really important to be able to see how this really hits home with some of our residents and the damage they've had with their properties," he said, adding, "I think it's important to recognize that climate change is going to make things worse but it's also important to recognize that building resilience isn't the only thing that will make a difference."

Council will return to further discussion on the matter at a future committee of the whole meeting.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com