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Record Low Water Levels Threaten Shipping in Great Lakes

Lower than average snowfall coupled with a hot and dry summer has caused water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron to hit a record low for the second month in a row, causing economic hardship on shippers forced to carry lighter loads, according to a report by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The record set in January, the lowest point since data collection began in 1918, follows 14 years of below-average water levels, according to the report. The low levels will continue to affect recreational harbors as well as the shipping industry.

Waukegan Harbor in Lake Michigan is currently closed to commercial navigation. Groundings now are much more likely and other harbors may close, the corps said. 

The latest forecast shows Michigan and Huron setting further all-time record lows with a predicted level of 575.95 feet for both February and March 2013, the corps said. The water level is expected to rise in April.

The remaining Great Lakes, which includes Superior, Erie and Ontario, have remained and are forecast to remain above their record lows.

In 2003, the General Accounting Office issued a report warning that by 2013 at least 36 states could face water shortages. But by 2008 at least 36 states were already dealing with periodic if not chronic water shortages, with California, New Mexico, and Arizona at the top of the list. The US water shortage is turning out to be even more pressing than the GAO predicted, urinal maker Waterless Co. said in a report last month.

Low water levels — caused by the worst US drought in 50 years — threatened to shut down commerce on the Mississippi River last month, jeopardizing shipments worth billions of dollars.

The US Army Corps of Engineers said last month it will begin issuing permits for industrial and municipal uses of Missouri River water, and is considering charging for surplus river water in the future.

 Photo: US Army Corps of Engineers

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One thought on “Record Low Water Levels Threaten Shipping in Great Lakes

  1. so ya think maybe we are taking too much water? see, when we take water in the lakes and rivers to make products or to bottle, we don’t realize how fast this adds up and yes, this actually starts to lower the lake level. It only makes sense…the more water we ship away from the lakes, the less water returns to the lakes.

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