By Art Klein
I was very lucky. In the summer of 1959, I landed a good summer job with the Army Corps of Engineers and was assigned to the St. Lawrence Seaway. I was to be part of that incredible creation of a fourth major American coastline to enable endless economic growth.
I never expected to have a career working in the Great Lakes and finish with the Corps in Buffalo as a very happy waterways investigator.
The seaway was designed by engineers to provide hydroelectric power and increase navigation. Science came later as we discovered invasive species. Then much later, wetland and fisheries people observed that some low water levels threatened near-shore habitats, especially wetlands
But the water levels are critical and the International Joint Commission (IJC) must manage levels to benefit hydropower and shipping without wrecking shorelines.
Wetlands determine the health of any body of water. The current lake levels actually threaten near-shore diversity. In Braddock Bay near Rochester, shoaling, which destroys wetlands, is obvious. Climate change also lowers the overall Great Lakes water levels and we experienced more incidents of low water rather than high water in the past couple of decades. This trend is expected to intensify and continue.
These problems have been thoroughly studied and the engineers and biologists have worked together to recommend slightly higher lake levels for the best overall results, not just increased hydroelectric power or navigation.
But we didn’t count on the politicians’ reaction. Two years ago I was astounded at one hearing to hear a county elected official assure the audience he wasn’t going to allow their creeks and back yards to be flooded. I thought once he studied what was occurring he would learn, but I don’t think so.
Even the State Legislature demonstrated this, passing a resolution against the new lake levels before the IJC-recommended new levels were published.
Since that time I have seen articles and letters by officials with obvious confused understanding of the problems, a failure to grasp their full implications and to accept the good solutions offered by engineers and scientists.
The fact is erosion results from extreme weather and the characteristics of the shoreline. But natural forces, design and workmanship are the main threats to any structures we place in any water body, not water levels.
I am shocked and mystified that the boating interests or sporting and fishing groups have not drowned out ignorance with louder shouts in protest. You better speak up or watch the lake quality dwindle and continue to lose value while we all will pay more for power and goods.
Art Klein is retired from the Army Corps of Engineers and is an active member of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Great Lakes Committee.