The St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes form a 2,300-mile waterway. It’s a shipping highway, generates hydroelectric power, supports commercial fisheries, and provides recreation for millions.

St. Lawrence seaway
St. Lawrence Seaway (source: Wikimedia).

To protect all of these interests, the water levels in the lakes and rivers is managed based on recommendations from a group called the International Joint Commission.

But Eugene Stakhiv, a water resources systems engineer and visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, says the current process may not work as climate change brings new patterns of precipitation.

Stakhiv: “Under this particular climate scenario that we’ve experienced over the past 200 years, we can manage the water levels fairly well. But if it goes into either very high flows or very low flows, we won’t be able to manage it at all.”

Eugene Stakhiv
Eugene Stakhiv

For example, with too much water in the system it will be impossible to release enough to prevent flooding. And with too little, there will not be enough for shipping.

Since the future may include periods of both too much and too little precipitation, the Commission is encouraging communities around the Great Lakes to prepare now for uncertain times ahead.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

More Resources
International Upper Great Lakes Study
Pressure mounts to restore Great Lakes water levels
Great Lakes ports and shipping companies confounded by climate changes and water levels
Climate Change and Lake Superior


Bridgett Ennis

Bridgett Ennis is co-founder of ChavoBart Digital Media, an audio and video production firm with a focus on scientific and environmental media. ChavoBart Digital Media contributes original reporting, audio...