Breaking the Ice

By Cameron Davis

Midwesterners as a general rule are a friendly bunch. They don’t gripe much. Even harsh winters—for which the region is legendary—typically draw commentary, not complaints.

So while recent temperatures are eliciting lots of opinions on city streets and in offices, one thing that’s not drawing as many comments is Great Lakes water levels. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lakes Michigan and Huron (hydrologically counted as the same lake) reached record low levels in December, the lowest recorded levels since the previous record, in 1964.

Warmer air temps mean warmer water temperatures, both of which mean falling lake levels. Warmer water temperatures mean the Great Lakes don’t get as much ice in winter time. Ice seals in water and reduces evaporation.

‘So what?’ you might ask because most people don’t use their coasts in wintertime.

Though lower levels may mean wider beaches for summer recreating, there are many other impacts that hurt recreation. Warmer water temperatures can mean more swimming advisories as conditions improve for harmful pathogens. Boats can have a more difficult time getting in and out of their ports as lake levels drop, which means more sediment can be stirred up when dredging needs to happen so boats can move. The list of impacts goes on.

Check out the Corps’ forecasts for yourself.

And, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a new “dashboard” to help you understand water.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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