Low Great Lakes Water Levels: Understanding the Causes and Potential Consequences

Event Date and Time: 
5/30/2013 (All day)
Palmer Commons, 4th Floor, University of Michigan Campus

The University of Michigan hosted a special seminar about the causes, consequences, and economic implications of low Great Lakes water levels on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at U-M's Palmer Commons from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by a one-hour reception. 

Photo Compliments of Michigan Sea Grant

North America's Great Lakes hold the largest amount of available surface freshwater in the world, comprising approximately 21% of the world’s total freshwater supply. This ample supply of water supports the very fabric of life in the region by providing clean drinking water and supporting commerce and recreational activities for more than 35 million people. The Great Lakes are a dynamic system, and this is reflected in the hydrological balance and associated water levels of the individual lakes.

In the last several months, Great Lakes water levels have reached historical lows, impacting tourism, shipping, and recreational activities. Through this seminar we discussed the causes of these low lake levels and the potential impacts to the region's economy.

This seminar provided an overview of the causes and consequences of low Great Lakes water levels. The event featured a series of 30-minute presentations (below), which was followed by a panel discussion at the end.

This event was co-sponsored by the U-M Water Center, the Cooperative Institute for Limnology & Ecosystems Research (CILER), and the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL).



Understanding Drivers of Great Lakes Water Levels

Drew Gronewold,  Hydrologist & Physical Scientist, NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab

During this presentation, Dr. Gronewold discussed the current status of lake levels in the Great Lakes in the context of the sources of Great Lakes water level variability over different spatial and temporal scales.  He discussed historical variability in lake levels and longer-term isostatic controls, and gave a context of conditions now and the projected future.

Presentation Video

Managing Lake Levels: Understanding the Balance Between Regulatory Requirements & User Needs

John Allis & Keith Kompoltowicz, Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In this presentation, Mr. Allis and Mr. Kompoltowicz discussed IJC regulations for managing lake levels and how the current plan balances control point releases for current water levels.  They also gave a general overview of harbor dredging around the Great Lakes and briefly touched on the potential impacts of low lake levels on lake carriers and harbors. 

Presentation Video

Economic Perspectives on Low Lake Levels: Costs, Benefits, Impacts, & Tradeoffs  

Michael Moore, Professor of Environmental Economics, School of Natural Resources & Environment (SNRE), University of Michigan 

Prof. Moore contrasted economic frameworks for assessing low lake levels, described challenges of estimating costs and benefits of low lake levels, discussed tradeoffs involved in managing lake levels, and presented estimates of effects of low lake levels on economic outcomes in the recreation and tourism sector of Lake Michigan-Huron

Presentation Video

This special event was part of the CILER-GLERL Great Lakes Seminar Series. This jointly-sponsored seminar series attracts regional, national and international speakers to Ann Arbor in order to facilitate Great Lakes research collaborations in a variety of research areas.