Water Quantity

This is the second in a series of Guest Articles by Dick Osgood, President of the North American Lake Management Society (http://nalms.org)

Is a lake a lake if there is no water?

“Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.” (Mark Twain)

“You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry.”(Bob Marley)

“Water is the only drink for a wise man.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Obviously he has never been to a NALMS conference.

Water quantity issues are beginning to affect lakes and the way we manage and protect them. Recently we have heard that Lake Lanier (Georgia), Lake Mead (Nevada), Lake Okeechobee (Florida), Lake Sakakawea & Devils Lake (North Dakota), and the Great Lakes are experiencing critically low levels. The causes are usually a combination of changing climate, diversion or withdrawals.

We have two basic concerns: 1) lower lake levels affect lake use and lake ecology and 2) there are policy implications with water withdrawals and transfers outside of lakes’ basins.

NALMS and lake managers will be challenged to confront these on both levels.

We will not slow down the climate change train in the near future, so we will have to adapt to its impacts on lake levels. Because reduced water levels often affect water quality and aquatic habitat, water withdrawal practice and policy will need to be re-considered as a water quality issue. For many lakes and reservoirs, withdrawals and inter-basin diversions are becoming a huge national and international policy issue as well. Because many people are re-locating to water-poor areas (the grey belt), and because they bring votes with them, it is becoming a major political issue – but one that must be confronted.

NALMS must be at the forefront of this issue.

There are serious water issues that we must confront in the near future. The Great Lake – representing 20% of the world’s surface fresh water – are one large example. While the volume of the Great Lakes is large, their capacity to withstand withdrawals, diversions, and climate-related low water is not large. Indeed, the Great Lake ecosystem and commercial transportation system are threatened. Rights to and the use of the Great Lakes water is complicated – politically and ecologically. The Great Lakes span two nations and the Basin includes two Provinces and seven states. Small declines in water levels have serious environmental and commercial consequences.

Yet, with all this water, there is a tiny tributary basin. This means it takes year, on a century scale, to keep the basins replenished.

This means even small withdrawals or diversions are significant.

In his book, “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” Peter Annin describes several examples of small diversions and withdrawals that have led to long-term conflict. Significant legal and policy questions are pondered. For example, is it alright to ship bottled water out of Michigan? The bottled water uses Michigan ground water (in the Great Lakes Basin) and distributes it (outside the Basin) – thus a diversion. Or, is it alright for the City of Racine, Wisconsin to withdrawal drinking water, but some of its wastewater is piped to the Mississippi drainage?

These are very small examples, but ones that have tied up courts. These are small, incremental diversions that have been difficult to resolve. But look at where we are heading.

This is exactly the area where NALMS should get involved. We first need the capacity. I am confident we are on that track.

Source: Dick Osgood, NALMS President. February 2008 NALMS eNewsletter. Used by permission.

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