WASHINGTON – The Great Lakes shipping industry usually sees its business pick up as summer arrives, but this year it could encounter days when shipping will have to come to a halt.
That's because of the historically high water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway – which may even have to close temporarily, if the waters get deeper.
With the south shore of Lake Ontario flooding, the board that controls water levels in the lake has used dams in the St. Lawrence to increase the water flow out of the lake to a record level: 10,200 cubic meters per second.
“It is indeed the highest flow rate that shipping has ever encountered on the St. Lawrence Seaway,” St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. spokesperson Andrew Bogora told CTV Ottawa this week.
If the water control board were to push even greater volumes of water out of the lake and into the river, shipping would have to shut down.
"We're at the maximum amount for safe navigation," said Keith Koralewski, a water management expert at the Army Corps of Engineers and a technical adviser to the water control board.
Larger flows of water into the St. Lawrence would create currents in the river that could prove dangerous to ships trying to navigate through it, Koralewski said.
Still, the board could increase water flows out of the lake to the level where they would disrupt the shipping industry.
And doing so would not be unprecedented.
“In 1993, navigation was permitted five days a week and suspended for two to permit the high flow rates,” Bogora told CTV Ottawa. “That could be an alternative if the demand materializes.”
But it could be an expensive alternative.
"Those affected in Canada and the U.S. could potentially lose over $50 million in sales per day,” Bruce Barrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce – which represents Great Lakes shippers – told CTV Ottawa.