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Water level forecast poor for shippers

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By Gannett News Service
Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — As the 2013 Great Lakes shipping season begins, the latest water levels forecast offers little encouragement for commercial carriers.

Shippers should expect to encounter continued low water levels for the next six months and the possibility of having to leave some of their cargo dockside.

While water levels are not expected to reach record lows, as they did in Lakes Michigan and Huron in January, they are forecast to remain well below long-term averages, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit.

Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior have been below average for 14 consecutive years, the longest stretch in their history. All the Great Lakes are below their long-term average, according to the Corps of Engineers, and are expected to remain so over the next six months. Only Lake Superior is above its 2012 level.

The good news in the forecast released on Wednesday is that the seasonal rise in water levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron this summer could return to normal, which is about nine to 12 inches. Last year's seasonal rise was just four inches, Kompoltowicz said.

Low water levels create navigational hazards for commercial carriers, and that has economic repercussions for all Great Lakes stakeholders, including marinas and waterfront restaurants.

While water levels are largely a function of Mother Nature, the impact of low levels would be less severe if the federal government were more aggressive about dredging, some Great Lakes stakeholders say.

“We can't control Mother Nature, but what we can control is the dredging issue,” said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers' Association. “We have more than 18 million cubic yards of sediment clogging our water system.”

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