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Expert says blame climate change, not IJC, for high lake levels

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Ellen Abbott/WRVO
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Fair Haven is among the many communities which have been struggling this year with high water levels along Lake Ontario.

An Ontario climate expert is joining those who say climate change is one of the main reasons behind record water levels in the Great Lakes. The opinion runs contrary to those which have placed the blame on the work of an international commission.

The Great Lakes holds about 20% of the world’s fresh water. Over the past couple of years water levels in the lakes have been higher than ever.

Once again spring flooding along the northern shores of Lake Ontario, as well as Toronto islands, has been a big problem. Recent government statistics also say water levels, especially in July, for the Great Lakes were at record highs.

Professor Blair Feltmate, the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adatpation at the University of Waterloo, west of Toronto, says there are two main reasons affecting those levels.

“Number one is climate change-induced. We’re getting more water coming down over shorter periods of time, more frequently so putting more water into the entire catchment basin. And number two, in and around the area of the Great Lakes, for example in the area of southern Ontario, we’ve removed, over the period the last 100 years, about 72 -73% of the natural infrastructure that was originally here—forests, fields, wetlands, laces that give water a place to go.  Now, when the big storms hit, the water goes very quickly into the Great Lakes, causing flooding," Feltmate said.

Feltmate disagrees with the International Joint Commission’s suggestion that increases in water levels are due to heavy rain and a big spring melt. He also says the extremes in weather will become even more extreme, with more flooding.

He describes it as an evolving normal. He also insists that climate change is here to stay. Feltmate says it may be up to local and regional governments to move more quickly to deal with flooding, than national governments.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.