The news this week was not good. Lake Michigan/Lake Huron has set a new record, falling below the record low level of March 1964 and measuring 6 feet below the record high level of October 1986. All of the Great Lakes have been setting individual monthly records, but this latest announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers warns that the lakes are at their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1918.

Water levels have fluctuated several inches and as much as several feet over the years, but the last 14-year period is the longest sustained time for below-average levels since record-keeping began in 1918.

Mother Nature has a good deal to do with these fluctuations, but mankind has also had a hand in causing the drop in water level. In the early 1960s the St.Clair River bottom was dredged to allow oceangoing vessels to traverse the Great Lakes. The St.Clair River is the major outflow from the upper Great Lakes. Since then, the river bottom has naturally eroded, lowering the average long-term drop in water level by 3 to 5 inches. What this all means is that Lake Michigan/Lake Huron is nearly 2 feet lower than if the river had not been dredged in the first place.

Another problem occurred when Chicago reversed the Chicago River, separating the city from the Great Lakes watershed and directing the river into the Mississippi River basin. Thanks to a  decree by the U.S. Supreme Court, Illinois can only draw 2.1 billion gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan. That is a lot of water — almost 20 times the amount drawn each day by Milwaukee. The problem with drawing water out is that none of it is put back into the watershed. All of the water drawn for washing cars, fighting fires or making ice is flushed down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

People have to begin to look for ways to save the Great Lakes, conserve and better treat their water and strike a balance with nature. More on this problem will follow. Until next time, keep a tight line.

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