Article published January 4, 2002|
deepen at persistent lake level
Davis-Besse, others concerned at
By TOM HENRY
With the Great Lakes at the lowest they’ve been
since the 1960s, western Lake Erie’s boating and shipping industries
could be in for another rough summer unless the region gets socked
by a Buffalo-style blizzard soon.
Even if the lake freezes
and snowfall reverts to normal between now and March, as expected,
there’s no end in sight to the problem, according to scientists at
two federal agencies that track the region’s water levels, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Army Corps
The potential effect goes beyond weekend
fishing trips and cargo hauled here by huge freighters: Akron-based
FirstEnergy Corp. acknowledges it has safety-related concerns about
the long-term effects that declining lake levels could have on its
Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County.
In recent weeks,
the utility has been contacting scientists from NOAA, the corps, and
other agencies with questions about how long the low-water trend
could last. The nuclear plant, which is along the Lake Erie
shoreline, needs to be assured the water will remain deep enough so
that it can continue to draw in thousands of gallons at a time for
"If it dropped so low we couldn’t bring it in, we’d
have to shut the plant down," FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins
He said the utility has discussed the
possibility of extending its water intake farther into the lake if
the long-term forecast for water levels doesn’t improve, although he
noted that no such project has gotten beyond an informal discussion
Scientists have said for years that Toledo is in the
most fickle part of the Great Lakes - Lake Erie’s shallow western
basin, where water can drop quickly if stiff winds from the south
blow it away from the shoreline.
Compounding the problem are
the warm temperatures that have delayed the lake’s freezing, leaving
the open waters rife to evaporation.
This year, Lake Erie’s
western basin is weeks behind where it normally would be, as a
result of the region’s rather mild, snowless winter. It has taken a
beating in terms of evaporation. A return to normal temperatures and
precipitation this late in the season won’t replenish what has been
lost, according to NOAA’s Cynthia Sellinger and the corps’ Roger
Gauthier, both hydrologists.
Ms. Sellinger said she was
surprised to get a call from Davis-Besse officials a few weeks ago.
Most of her inquiries are from marina operators, fishermen, and
those affiliated with the shipping industry.
operators monitor gauges to make sure the plant has enough cooling
water on hand for a safe shutdown in the event of an emergency.
Since going on line in 1977, the plant never has had to shut down
because of a water shortage, Mr. Wilkins said.
said she recently completed a study that shows lakes Erie, Huron,
and Michigan dropped 2.6 feet from 1998 to 2001, one of the most
dramatic three-year declines on record.
Lakes Carriers Association, which represents the shipping industry,
estimates that $22,000 to $28,000 of cargo have to be removed from
each barge for every inch of water the lakes lose - costs that add
up to the millions and typically are passed along to
The economic effect on the Port of Toledo is hard
to gauge, said John Loftus, seaport director for the Toledo-Lucas
County Port Authority. "The reality is we are dependent on how
Mother Nature is going to run this show. It makes life
unpredictable, so don’t base your business around high water
levels," Mr. Loftus said.
The region’s low-water trend could
stick around for years, if predictions about global warming come
true, Ms. Sellinger said.
The World Meteorological
Organization, a United Nations climate agency, has declared 2001 as
the Earth’s second-warmest on record. The warmest was
The resulting low water has almost everyone worried,
including marina owners who must dredge deeper to keep docks and
berths open. "We’re all concerned," Joe Ihnat, co-owner of Anchor’s
Away Marina Corp. in Marblehead, said. "Lake Erie is our main bread
and butter, and we need reasonable water depth to take care of our