It’s a case of “shifting baselines.”
That’s how Hannah Cann, coastal stewardship co-ordinator with the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation (LHCCC) in Goderich describes the current high water situation.
The people who have lived by the lake for 40 or 50 years don’t find anything out of the ordinary, she said. However, people who have come to the area within the past decade or so have a different perspective. Their “baseline” is the persistent low water level that existed from 2000-2013.
The water level usually fluctuates on a five- to seven-year cycle, but “we haven’t seen a high since 1997,” she said.
Right now, the lake is 90 cm above average but still 13 cm below the highest recorded level in 1986.
The high water is definitely the “hot topic” of the summer, said Cann.
Many people are wondering how long the present situation is going to last, and Cann has some good news for people concerned about their dwindling beach. “According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the water level is going down,” she said. Their six-month prediction is down by 60 cm, which means by February, there should be substantially more beach under the snow and ice.
Not that there’s anything bad about high water levels. Cann stresses it’s been great for people who canoe and kayak on the Maitland (the river level is higher for a fair distance inland). It’s also been very good for the coastal wetlands and fish spawning.
Lower water levels will be good news for Karen Kieffer, recreation director for the Municipality of Kincardine.
Kieffer said the high water has meant a lot more debris washing onto the shore at Station Beach and Tiny Tots on a daily basis – sticks, stones and everything else. It’s also reduced the beach to almost nothing in places. She noted there used to be four beach volleyball courts at Station Beach. This year there’s one.
The large stone semicircle on the boardwalk along the shore at Station Beach is a popular place for photographers and sightseers. This spring, many people were dismayed to see several of the huge stones had been washed away.
Kieffer said the bad weather in May took a toll. “We had to order some additional stones (6-8) and got a contractor in,” she said. Repairs were done in July to replace the missing stones and reinforce the rest of them.
The May weather also moved some of the big blue chairs, which had to be relocated.
People had the opportunity to express their concerns about the high water and other issues during a recent public meeting in Goderich.
It was part of the International Joint Commission’s “Step In and Speak Out for the Great Lakes” series held in various locations this summer, part of its consultation throughout the Great Lakes region every three years. The purpose is to assess both countries’ progress in accomplishing the goals they agreed to in the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
The Goderich open house meeting included a question period and a panel discussion moderated by Nigel Bellchamber that featured three area experts – Cann, Phil Beard and Mari Veliz of the Maitland Valley and Ausable Bayfield conservation authorities respectively, and Melisa Luymes and Rick Koostra, the former of Headlands Ag-Enviro and the latter of the Huron Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
“It was great of them to come to Goderich and hear what we want,” said Cann. She was gratified to see 90-100 people in attendance.
She added, “There were some great questions, including invasive species … and power generation. … We need some long-term solutions to preserve for future generations the majesty of the Great Lakes.”
She noted people are concerned about the lakes and lakeshore and how to protect both. Natural barriers along the shore can work wonders – dunes and vegetation. “Kincardine has gorgeous dunes.”
LHCCC has a new stewardship program in this area. Sponsored by Huron-Kinloss and the Lush Charity Pot, Green Ribbon Champions is a free program that offers an onsite assessment and restoration plan that could include such things as planting native grasses and removing invasive species. Deadline for applications is Aug. 30. Cann said they’re looking for 50 shoreline properties and already have eight or nine. Contact the Township of Huron-Kinloss or the LACCC website for more information.
Another program, the Phragmites Community Cut, takes place at Brucedale Conservation Area on Aug. 22 and 24. (Phragmites is a tall invasive grass.)
It’s a case of “shifting baselines.”