Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to do a lot of highway driving. When you live in northern Ontario a road trip means roaming across vast stretches of mostly remote pine forests, marshlands and by pristine freshwater lakes studded with rocky shorelines. It did not take me long to notice the receding waterlines in many lakes and rivers.
Over my lifetime, I have noticed water levels on many small lakes and rivers ebb and flow with the seasons. The slightest movement when the waterline rose or fell an inch or two was always a cause for great concern from locals. On my wanderings, I was shocked to drive by countless lakes and rivers where the water levels have obviously dropped below normal levels. At first, I thought this drying-up condition was merely something happening in one area, but as the kilometres flew by I soon realized water levels were down everywhere.
At one point, I saw a small lake that actually had dried up completely. It was obvious that the water had just disappeared in a short period of time as there was no marsh growth, no swamp or any plant growth to replace it. Rather, the water had receded so quickly that it left a barren sandy bottom to dry up in the sun. It was eerie to discover a small freshwater lake in the wilderness that dried up so fast.
I was shocked by such obvious visual change in the landscape. Normally this type of change happened over many years and here I was seeing lakes and rivers drop in size in what seemed like overnight. This made me feel anxious and upset. In this part of the world we take for granted that we are surrounded by water in one way or another. Water is found in lakes, rivers, marshes, swamps and mushkeg. Abundance of water is the norm in Ontario so such a drastic change in levels has me worried.
Many people in cottage country have been complaining about the low water levels. Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller, who owns a cottage in Cassels (100kms north of North Bay), was reported in the Toronto Star as stating that his lake was down five feet. Cottagers who own boats are being warned this year to be careful as low points and rock outcroppings are now closer to the surface than before. I heard these warnings broadcast over the radio during much of my drive through northern and southern Ontario.
Those of us who live in the north realize that we experienced a very warm winter with little snow. Many Elders I have talked to tell me that this winter was the first time in their memories that they witnessed such mild temperatures and such little snowfall. The amount of snowfall and resulting runoff directly determines the water levels in the spring. Environment Canada reported that Canada had its driest winter on record this past year. Precipitation levels were 22% below normal this winter compared to records going back 63 years. The US Army Corps of Engineers reported that in April, Lake Superior, the largest of the five Great Lakes, was down 3cms when it should have been up 8cms. The levels of the other five lakes are also low for this time of year. A few centimetres on these Great Lakes translates to a vast amount of water loss.
According to scientists and professionals who monitor the Great Lakes, water levels are an indicator of what is happening further upstream. If the water is down, what has already happened along the rivers and waterways leading to any of the Great Lakes? Few people are making the direct connection to climate change, as this is the first year that water levels have fallen so drastically. However, the science community points out how sensitive our lakes, rivers and natural environment can be to changes in the weather. The lack of normal snowfall this winter has greatly affected the natural lake environments we took for granted every spring.
Let’s face it climate change is real. This is not some contrived concept that a few scientists have come up with. Most prominent scientists in the world have been warning us for some time now that we are on a dangerous course in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, which is affecting our climate. They warn of a global warming and we can see this happening in the rapid depletion of glaciers all over the world. We also see huge change in the Arctic and Antarctic.
There are skeptics who would have us believe that the vast majority of scientists and environmental experts are telling us some great lies in terms of global warming. Most of this movement of skeptics seems to be connected to industry and specifically the oil giants of our world. It is becoming painfully obvious that the world is changing right before our eyes and I believe that this trend in global warming will only be getting worse. It is time for us to put the environment back on the political stage as our number one issue at hand. The lakes and rivers are drying up right in our own backyards.