Docks left high and dry, receding beaches, falling property values — the numbers are in, and lake-lapped Southwestern Ontario and other parts of the Great Lakes region could be in for a shock.
For the first time, a study has estimated the projected economic toll of falling Great Lakes water levels.
By 2050, dropping water levels could cost the region in the continent’s heartland $19 billion.
Boating and fishing industries will take the biggest hit — losing about
$13 billion by 2050, according to the study by the Mowat Centre think-tank and commissioned by the Council of the Great Lakes Region. But the fallout doesn’t end there.
Shoreline property values are forecast to fall by nearly $1 billion, bad news for many of Ontario’s estimated 250,000 recreational waterfront property owners.
Waterfront properties along Lake Huron will be hardest hit, the report concludes.
“We need all levels of government to heed this report, and research the best approaches we can take to address the issue head on,” said David Sweetman, executive director of Georgian Bay Forever.
The group partially funded the report, as did the Ontario government.
“This report shows that doing nothing is costly. Additional measures are needed to help regulate water levels and mitigate the problem,” Sweetnam said.
The report was an eye-opener even to the group that commissioned it.
“When I saw the numbers I was surprised because they’re so significant,” said Mark Fisher, chief executive of the Council of the Great Lakes Region.
Falling water levels are also expected to hurt the shipping, tourism and hydro-electric power industries.
Add in other industries not directly affected, which the study did not account for but are still potentially harmed, such as manufacturing and retail, and the fallout could be even worse.
“Those numbers would (then) be even larger,” said Fisher.
Falling lake levels can also threaten municipal water intakes in the lakes, which serve many cities.
“Let’s work on correcting the situation,” said Parry Sound Mayor Jamie McGarvey, a board member of the Ontario Association of Municipalities. “Let’s take a look at the best option and fix it.”
Parry Sound’s water infrastructure is good, but not all municipalities are as fortunate, he said.
– With files by Morgan Ian Adams, QMI Agency, and Patrick Maloney, The Free Press
“This (issue) has very much been on our radar screen for a long time.”
Wendy Zatylny, president, Association of Canadian Port Authorities
“This is going to have significant impacts on the environment . . . but also on our expectations around the value we get economically out of the water. It is not something to be taken lightly.”
Terry Rees, Federation of Ontario Cottage Associations
“We should also be very cautious about any man-made steps that could hurt the Great Lakes any further . . . We have to be very careful we don’t play Russian roulette . . .”
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley
“We need to start caring for the coastal corridor.”
Karen Alexander, The Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation
We’ve been talking water levels over 10 years now . . . we’re just thrilled other stakeholders are adding their voice to it.”
Bob Duncanson, Georgian Bay Association
“We’re in the coldest, wettest year in a generation, and (Lakes Huron and Michigan) are still 20 cm below the long-term average,”
Colin Dobell, of the lake advocacy group Stop the Drop
GREAT LAKES BASIN
- Water levels have fallen for a generation.
- Holds about 20% of the world’s fresh water.
- Supplies drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians.
- Contains nearly one-third of Canada’s population.