Montreal, October 21, 2007 • No 238




Harry Valentine is a
free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.




by Harry Valentine


          There are great concerns being expressed by the drastic drop in water levels from Lake Superior. Part of the reason has been a drought that has lasted for seven years in the watershed from which water flows into rivers that empty into the lake. Shipping companies have complained about the loss of revenue that results from carrying less cargo aboard their vessels so that their vessels will clear the shallow sections of Lake Superior.


          Lake Superior empties into Lake Huron and the quasi-governmental body that overseas water levels in the Great Lakes may have no accurate information as to how much water flows from one lake into the other. Residents who own property along the shores of Lake Huron as well as Georgian Bay have recently sounded the alarm about their shorelines receding. Areas that were once covered by water are now covered with weeds. The receding shorelines indicate that the water levels in Lake Huron and in Georgian Bay are also dropping.

          A consultant and researcher who has been studying the problem of water being lost from the Great Lakes has identified a possible cause. Water flows from Lake Huron through the St. Clair River into Lake St. Clair. Erosion in the St. Clair River has widened and deepened the channel with the result that it carries more water from Lake Huron than at any previous time. River shorelines are the responsibility of quasi-governmental and regulatory bodies. Private land owners whose riverfront properties have undergone erosion along the shorelines are often prevented from undertaking action to reclaim their lost shorelines by such agencies.

          An alternative free market approach in which property rights are upheld may have greater possibility of success than government control over the waterway. All the owners who own waterfront property along the Great Lakes and the rivers that flow into and from these lakes would be able to use their property rights to reinforce their shorelines to prevent erosion. Whoever takes water from the system will have to return water to the system and in as good condition. Such recognition of property rights would resolve the problem of people or industries dumping toxins and pollutants into the water system.

"An alternative free market approach in which property rights are upheld may have greater possibility of success than government control over the waterway."

          The shipping channels would have to be placed under private ownership. The owner of the shipping channel would have to co-operate with all other property owners to ensure a harmonious relationship. In order to remain in business, the shipping channels would have to stay navigable. Since erosion in the St. Clair River has been identified as one possible cause of water being lost from the lakes upstream, private co-operative action would be needed to resolve that problem.

          Co-operation between owners of waterfront property on either side of the river and the shipping company could result in waterfront property being extended further into the channel. The extension could be built on a foundation of rocks and boulders supplied by the shipping company and other affected property owners. The shipping company could also obtain permission and co-operation from other property owners to lay a row of rocks and boulders on the riverbed.

          Over a thousand years ago the ancient Mayan engineers originated this approach to reduce the rate at which water flowed through tributaries that fed into larger rivers. Their technique prevented mass flooding downriver. The Mayan technique could be used on the floor of the St. Clair River to reduce the volume flow rate of water from Lake Huron into Lake St. Clair.

          The approach would have to be approved by owners of nearby waterfront properties and owners of local fishing farms who may operate in the river. The spaces between the rocks and boulders could become habitat for certain fish species. There may be enough space between the row of boulders and the keels of ships to install certain designs of kinetic turbines across the river to generate electric power for local use.

          Reducing the water flow rate through the St. Clair River may only be a partial solution. Other research has suggested that changing weather pattern may result in more rainfall in Northern Canada. That rainfall will supply rivers that flow into Hudson Bay. There is a possibility that some of that water could be diverted into Lake Nipigon that empties into Lake Superior. A free market approach would involve negotiation and co-operation with landowners in Northwestern Ontario whose property is located at higher elevation than Lake Nipigon and within the watershed that feeds into Hudson Bay. Successful and mutually beneficial negotiation could result in some of that water being diverted into Lake Nipigon and into the Great Lakes system.