Tuesday, October 5, 2010

IJC Expands Great Lakes Study To Include Climate Change

Oct 5: In response to the International Upper Great Lakes Study's report on the St. Clair River, and comments from the public on the report, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has issued a letter to the Study Board providing guidance on the ongoing work of the International Upper Great Lakes Study. The IJC has also issued letters to the Governments of Canada and the United States to inform them of this guidance.

    The previous report, Impacts on Upper Great Lakes Water Levels: St. Clair River, concluded the first phase of a study of the upper Great Lakes. It examined the physical changes in the St. Clair River since 1962 and recommended that measures to remediate the increased conveyance, or water-carrying capacity, of the river not be undertaken at this time. It also recommended that mitigation measures in the St. Clair River be examined as part of the comprehensive assessment of the future effects of climate change in the second phase of the study. Over the long term, the Study Board recommended that the Governments of Canada and the U.S. undertake cooperative efforts to improve the monitoring and analysis of Great Lakes water supplies and connecting channel flows.

    The IJC said it concurs with the recommendations in the report and has provided further guidance to the Board pertaining to the first recommendation that remedial measures not be undertake in the St. Clair River at this time. In this regard, the IJC has directed the Study Board to undertake an exploratory investigation of how raising the water-level regimes on Lakes Michigan and Huron by different amounts would affect interests on the Great Lakes system from Lake Superior to the St. Lawrence River. With respect to the second recommendation of the report, the Commission has agreed with the Study Board that it also review mitigative options based on potential climate change impacts.

    In addition, the Commission provided guidance to the Study Board on three important matters raised in its 7th Progress Report, directing them to: propose one alternative to the existing regulation plan based on its scientific investigations and extensive public input; establish a legal rationale for selecting a future regulation plan that allows for the possibility of new physical conditions under a changing climate; and, investigate and recommend institutional mechanisms for the management of water resources though one or more management boards in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River System.

    According to release, the study will continue to examine whether the IJC Order of Approval and plan for regulating Lake Superior outflows should be modified to address the changing climate and the evolving needs of users on lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan and Erie. The final report of the Study Board on the entire study is expected to be completed and submitted to the IJC by early 2012. Funded equally by the U.S. and Canadian governments, the $17.5 million (CAD approx $17.2 U.S.) study is being conducted by the binational, independent International Upper Great Lakes Study Board at the request of the IJC under the authority of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

    Access a release from IJC and links to the letter to the Study Board and governments, the previous study, the 7th Progress Report, and a key issues and response document (click here).

Agencies Launch Binational Asian Carp Risks Assessment

Oct 5: The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) praised Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea for launching a major initiative to assess the risk Asian carps pose to the Great Lakes. The risk assessment will be conducted jointly between scientists in Canada and the United States and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission will facilitate the project. The risk assessment will be the first binational effort to evaluate the likelihood of Asian carps spreading throughout the Great Lakes basin and to gauge the potential effect of the species on the Great Lakes ecosystem. The assessment will involve preeminent scientists in the field, will be peer-reviewed, and should take about eighteen months to complete.
    GLFC indicated that the non-natural connection -- the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal -- links the Mississippi basin to the Great Lakes and is the primary pathway of concern for the Asian carps. An electrical barrier on the waterway prevents carp migration, but sampling -- and the capture of one live bighead carp in June, 2010 -- has raised concern that Asian carps might be on the Lake Michigan side of the barrier, though probably in small numbers. GLFC has joined other agencies in working together to support measures to monitor carp movement and prevent entry into the Great Lakes. 
    David Ullrich, GLFC U.S. Section Chair said, "The Great Lakes Fishery Commission commends Canada for launching this initiative to better understand the potential for Asian carps to spread throughout the Great Lakes ecosystem. With this risk assessment, we will have a vastly improved understanding about where Asian carps might establish a population within the basin, as well as important information about the probable impact of Asian carps on the fishery and environment, should they enter the lakes."
    Michael Hansen the commission's vice chair and professor at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point said, "Scientists in both Canada and the United States have each conducted separate risk assessments to evaluate Asian carps and their effect on the environment. This information, to date, has been instrumental in justifying the critical importance of preventing the migration of these fish into the Great Lakes. The commission is pleased that Minister Shea has committed Canada to conducting a rigorous risk assessment that will include active participation from American scientists. The product will be the first and only basin-level, peer-reviewed consensus among top scientists about the risks of Asian carps."
    Access a release from GLFC (click here). Access more information on the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (click here).