Middle Great Lakes losing 200 tons of water per second

Analysis of IUGLS Revised Flow Data and Lake Michigan-Huron Water Level Restoration Effects (click here for report)

Executive Summary

This report was prepared for the Great Lakes Section of the Ontario Chapter of Sierra Club Canada by Bill Bialkowski, an engineer who specialized in process control, and who has developed many advanced computer modeling techniques over his long career. During the last 8 years, Bill has studied and modeled the hydrology of the St. Clair River and Upper Great Lakes, and has written a number of reports linking changes in the St. Clair River’s structure to the level of lakes Michigan/Huron.

In July, 2009, the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board (IUGLSB) provided Bill with the data set that it had used to reach its preliminary conclusion that the conveyance of the St. Clair River had increased by 5.8% since 1962, thereby lowering Lake Michigan/Huron by 7 to 14 cm. Unfortunately, these included flow data up to 1986 only, because the Study Board were aware of an increase in St. Clair River conveyance and considered the data after 1986 to be unreliable, hence  needing further adjustment. Their conclusions on the St. Clair River conveyance were thus based on incomplete data. Bill took the data provided, ran them through his own models, and concluded that, since 1962, the conveyance capability of the St. Clair River had, in fact, increased by between 10% and 11.8%.

In January 2011, the IUGLSB provided Bill with a fresh set of flow data including “revised” data for the St. Clair River for the period 1986 to 2008. Bill was also provided with a copy of a study report by Environment Canada (EC) on the post-1986 flow equations based on latest measurements, which were to form the basis for the post-1986 flow data revision process. He then set out to prepare three sets of analyses based on these new data:

  1. To review the new data set and understand the effects these data might have on the dynamics of the St. Clair, Detroit and Niagara Rivers;
  2. To recalculate the changes that have occurred in the conveyance of the St. Clair River from 1962 to the present and the effect that these changes have on the level of Lakes Michigan/Huron.
  3. To:  a) answer the question posed by the International Joint Commission (IJC) to the IUGLSB on the potential effect of raising lakes Michigan/Huron by 0, 10, 20, 40 and 50 cm, which the IUGLSB have yet to answer; and b) calculate the effect on conveyance and lake levels of the proposed introduction of power turbines generating 18 MW in the St. Clair River near Port Huron.

The conclusions of these analyses are as follows:

  • For question 1, it appears that the revised post-1986 flow data did not include the increases recommended by Environment Canada staff and collaborators for the St. Clair and Detroit River, leaving these flows short by about 200 cubic metres per second (about 4%).
  • On Question 2, Bill’s models indicate that the conveyance of the St. Clair River has increased by about 9%, an increase that has lowered Lakes Michigan/Huron by about 19 cm.
  •  On question 3a), the models indicate that, should flexible control measures such as inflatable weirs or power generating turbines be used to reduce the St. Clair River conveyance and raise the level of Michigan/Huron by 0, 10, 20, 40 and 50 cm., the effects could be entirely manageable and would not be unduly harmful to residents upstream or downstream. Should the IUGLSB recommend fixed structures such as concrete weirs, these measures would cause unacceptable consequences upstream under potential future high water periods.
  • On question 3b), if the full proposed 18 MW of power generating turbine system currently undergoing an environmental assessment for U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval were deployed into the river over a reasonable period of time, they would raise Michigan/Huron by more than 30 cm and would have only a small and temporary effect on Lake St. Clair levels and an even smaller effect on Lake Erie. 
File Size: 
File Type: 
Local Chapter: