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Some relief for Lake Erie shoreline property owners

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There is positive news for businesses and property owners along the north shore of Lake Erie.

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The Long Point Region Conservation Authority reports water levels in the lake have been in steady decline for the past year. Citing Environment Canada data, the authority also reports that the downward trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

The news is welcome because low-lying areas along the shoreline have been under constant threat of flooding and storm-related erosion for the past two years.

The data indicate that the water level remains well above average. However – in contrast to the past two summers – moderate winds from the southwest are no longer sufficient to cause inland flooding. Boat ramps and dockages are also more accessible for boaters than they have been in the recent past.

“The lower water level also has a secondary effect of decreasing the risk from storm surge flooding, although it does not remove this risk all together,” said Matt Churly, a water resource analyst with the LPRCA. “At current lake levels, we would need to see moderate to high winds for flooding to occur along our shoreline. A southwest breeze is not enough to cause flooding at the current lake level in our region.”

Churly said the water level in Lake Erie was 33 centimetres higher than the historic average at the start of June but 40 centimetres lower than at the same time in 2020. Environment Canada data suggest the lake will continue trending downward for the remainder of 2021.

A dry spring and moderate precipitation so far this summer has helped matters along. In a news release last week, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board described conditions of late as a “drought” not only in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence but in the Lake Erie basin, too.

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The board issued the release to explain why it was reducing the outflow of water from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River by 200 cubic metres (7,060 cubic feet) per second. Canadian and American officials co-operate on managing water levels in the Great Lakes basin where they can because they have implications for shipping, power generation, municipal water intakes and sensitive lakeshore ecosystems.

No such controls are possible on Lake Erie because its waters empty into Lake Ontario over Niagara Falls at their own rate. There are also no controls on inflows from the Detroit River, which connects Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and Lake Huron.

“It is important to remember the ability of the board to influence water levels within this natural system is in the realm of centimetres and inches, not metres and feet,” Steve Durrett, the United States’ co-chair of the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board, said in the release.

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