WNY Outdoors Blog

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Low-level Great Lakes

Direct dredging funds to low-level Great Lakes

Low water levels necessitate efforts to clear harbors

5:59 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |  
 
As New York continues to clean up from a massive storm surge along its seaboard, residents along Lake Ontario are suffering the opposite problem: too little water. While state leaders lobbied Monday for federal funds to rebuild downstate, funds are already in hand for mitigation of low-level conditions like those in the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, they are not fully allocated. That must change.

The effects of near-record-low water levels are evident from the Minnesota shoreline of Lake Superior to the high-and-dry docks in Irondequoit Bay.
While lake levels rise and fall in cycles, the lows are not inconsequential. The Chicago-based Great Lakes Boating Federation estimates recreational boating on Lake Ontario and its four sisters generates some $9.5 billion annually, with fishing activity adding another $7 billion. Landlocked marinas and harbors too low for safe boating erode that revenue.

Human efforts to mitigate the levels, such as adjusting water flow through dams in the St. Lawrence Seaway, are negligible.

All of which is why increased dredging efforts will be needed to keep shipping lanes and harbors accessible. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates some 30 Great Lakes harbors, including Oak Orchard Harbor in Orleans County, will need dredging in the next few years.

And that’s just in the Great Lakes. Shipping lanes in the Mississippi River and harbors along the Gulf Coast also need attention.
Funds for such work are collected via a Harbor Maintenance Tax on cargo, but only about half the $1.5 billion in annual receipts is allocated for dredging. Unspent funds now top $6.5 billion.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a co-chair of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, has been behind a welcome bill to require all harbor tax fees go toward dredging and harbor maintenance. She must keep pushing. Sen. Charles Schumer must likewise flex his legislative muscle to free up these much-needed funds.

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