the do-nothing alternative

I was pleased to see this recent report out of a US-Canadian advisory panel that the best option to manage varying water levels of the Great Lakes is, actually, nothing.  Homeowners adjacent to shorelines that have risen and fallen significantly in the past 20-30 years were hoping that dams or similar water flow controls between the Great Lakes would constrain the water levels with less variation.  But remember, these are the Great Lakes.  That’s a lot of water we’re talking about, and building big dams on that scale would be massive in cost (both dollars and environmental damage).  Plus, there’s no guarantee that dams can prevent long-term trends in water balance between rainfall, runoff, and evaporation.  I mean, look at Lakes Powell and Mead on the Colorado River: the physical infrastructure can’t overcome the lack of precipitation and runoff in the Colorado basin when withdrawals continue unabated, and consequently water levels have declined on the order of 100 ft since the lakes filled.

So let’s see, a project that would benefit some shoreline property owners but have huge infrastructure and environmental costs…doesn’t exactly sound like something I’d want my taxpayer money paying for.  It’s a relief that the advisory panel was not swayed by a few annoyed shoreline residents into unsound advice.  The “do nothing” alternative can sometimes be a high bar to meet and exceed.

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