THE DISASTROUS DEPLETION OF THE GREAT LAKES
AN ADDRESS BY MR. J. R. MacNICOL, M.P.
Thursday, 29th October, 1936
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, our guest speaker today is a Member of Parliament for the Davenport riding of the City of Toronto. He tells me at one time he was a school teacher in Grey County and judging by the maps on the tables and the announcement, I think the subject of today's lesson is to be "Geography."
Moreover, Mr. MacNicol is once of the type of public men I think this country is in great need of. We need men of bulldog tenacity who will take hold of a problem, a big problem and stay with that problem with the grip of the bulldog until victory is won. Mr. MacNicol has made in times past the subject of the preservation of the Great Lakes issue his hobby, or, shall I say, his life-work.
There can be no exaggeration of the importance of these bodies of water to us, in Canada and to a certain extent, not so great, to the people of the United States. Canada owes its existence as a part of the British Empire to these separating barriers, these inland seas, and Canada owes much more today in an economic sense.
I refer partly to the great power supply which we get from waters of the Great Lakes and which will be seriously threatened if the depletion of the Great Lakes is not checked. Transportation on the Great Lakes, and our minor waterways, was in pioneer days the only means of transportation in Canada. It had a great deal to do with opening up Canada. Notwithstanding the great advance made in other forms of travel by the railway, the motor car and the aeroplane, it may surprise many to know that with the exception of several years of the depression which is now happily nearing an end, transportation tonnage on the Great Lakes has had a steady increase and that this year, 1936, promises to have the largest tonnage in Toronto Harbour that we have ever had in history. Only very unfavourable weather conditions can possibly prevent the record being achieved this year.
Apart from what we might say is the monetary effect of the depleting of the Great Lakes, the aesthetic is to be considered. We have now on the shores of the Great Lakes vast stretches of barren territory. Once beautiful blue water--now, what shall I call them?--eyesores to ourselves and detrimental to our health.
Mr. MacNicol has for the past five years made an intensive study of all relevant facts. He has travelled from New Orleans on the south to the Ogoki River on the north. He is well qualified to suggest solutions for this important problem. Mr. MacNicol!
MR. JOHN R. MACNICOL: Mr. President and Gentlemen: I am not going to take up time in thanking the President for his very kindly and generous introduction. The subject that I have chosen to speak to you about will take about all the time I have at my disposal. I want to deal with it the best I can. But I do appreciate your very kindly remarks and I thank the Club or whoever is responsible for conferring upon me the title of 'Honourable.' That was certainly worth while coming to the Empire Club for, but I am very much afraid that after I leave this room I will have to cut off that title. I also want to thank whoever is responsible I presume, in honour of my Irish mother-for changing the spelling of my perfectly good Scottish name into an equally good Irish name.
The monthly reports, in reference to the continually and progressively decreasing water levels of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Waterways, prove that the decreasing is continuing. I received, a few days ago, from Ottawa, the latest report issued by the Federal Government Hydrographer, and in that he points out that as far as Lake Ontario is concerned that the present water level of our own lake is 2.05 feet below the average for the previous 76 years, and the average level-that is, for September last-for Lake Erie is 2.12 feet below the average for the previous 76 years and for the two great lakes, Huron and Michigan, which are on the same level, the drop is 2.55 feet below the average for September of the previous 76 years and that as far as our great national harbour at Montreal is concerned, the level this year, which is identical with the September average of 1935, is 3.37 feet below what the average for September had been in the previous 76 years, although September is not by any means the lowest month. I will refer throughout the course of my remarks to October, because by October the dry and wet seasons are past and the water levels have more or less steadied. November levels will be still lower and December still lower than they are today.
I have in mind that last year, on January 8th, the Montreal Stay pointed out that the December average level in the Harbour of Montreal, our great national port, was 5.49 feet lower than the December average of the previous, 75 years. And, doubtless, every one present has read in the press, from time to time, articles captioned "Great Lakes Harbour Traffic Reduced Owing to Low Water Level in the Harbours"--"St. Lawrence Cargoes Cut in Two Owing to Reduction of Levels in the St. Lawrence Canals and the St. Lawrence River," etc., etc.
Now, Mr. President, those facts should convince Canadians of the menace that threatens our great national economy, our great highway from the head of the lakes to the sea by the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
The Dominion Government has been a little tardy, I am sorry to say, but at last it has commenced to take note of these depressingly decreasing water levels for, in each of the last two sessions, the Federal Government voted $40,000 to a board of engineers to ascertain for it what remedies could be advanced or used to increase the level in our great St. Lawrence River. You have read, on more than one occasion, that steamships from across the seas have had to stop at Three Rivers, and many of them have had to stop at Quebec City and forego the much more advantageous possibility of unloading or loading at Montreal. I hope that, now we have an engineer, at Ottawa-on the opposite side of politics to me, Mr. Chairman-as Minister of Transportation, that at the next session of Parliament he will, if for no other reason than that his home city is at the head of the Great Lakes, bring forward a plan not only to improve the St. Lawrence levels but to improve the water levels :of all of our Great Lakes.
The Ontario Government, on its part, is at the present time trying in its own way to find a method--(Laughter.) (I didn't mean anything by that, Mr. President. They are only following what has been done by others)--to propose the diversion of the Ogoki River in Northern Ontario, some 200 miles north of Lake Superior, over the height of land and down through a chain of lakes and rivers into Lake Superior, with the expectation by doing so to increase the lake levels, perhaps two or, perhaps three inches. But, as I am not going to deal with the Ogoki problem until later on in my remarks, I will nor try to lay down a basis to enable you to follow what remarks I am going to make in connection with the Great Lakes levels themselves.
I believe every one present has before them a map. The upper figures on each lake on the map-for instance, in reference to Lake Michigan it is 581, and similarly in reference to other lakes, indicate the normal water levels, as set by the government of the United States and Canada. The lower figures, in brackets, indicate the average October level on those lakes for the whole forty years prior to the year 1900.
Now, I believe my first step, after having pointed that out, is to deal with this subject for three different periods. Firstly, the year 1860; secondly, the year 1900; and, thirdly, the year 1935. Why? Because in the year 1860 the Governments of these two countries first commenced to keep accurate daily records pertaining to the water levels of our great lakes and connecting rivers and the year 1900, because in that year, Chicago, through her Sanitary and Ship Canal, commenced to divert upwards of 10,000 cubic feet per second from the St. Lawrence watershed via the Illinois River into the Mississippi River, that is, into the Mississippi watershed; and the year 1935, because it is the last full year of record.
I first consider something in reference to the 40-year period from 1860 to 1900 prior to the opening of the Chicago Canal, and what do we find during those years in reference to the water levels of our Great Lakes? We find that for the 40 year prior to 1900 the fluctuations up and down of the water levels of our Great Lakes were largely normal, sometimes above, sometimes a little below. For the two Great Lakes, Huron and Michigan, which are on the same level, the water level of those two lakes was above normal 28 times and 12 below. In Lake Erie, the water was 11 times above normal and 29 times below, and in our own Lake Ontario, the water was 19 times above and 21 times below, and in no case were the fluctuations excessive.
Following the opening of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900, what happened? There are some who will tell you that the Chicago Drainage Canal, in their opinion, hasn't had the effect some eminent engineers say it has, and what I am convinced it has had, but listen to the following figures of what has happened, during the 35 years of the operation of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to the water levels of these three lower Great Lakes. The water level of Huron and Michigan, which are on the same level, in 1935, that is, October 1935No, I am a little ahead of my story there-and had first better direct your attention to the map on which you will note that the average water levels prior to the year 1900 and during the term of the 40 year period prior to the opening of the Chicago Drainage Canal were 581.52 for Lake Huron and Lake Michigan; and for Lake Erie, 572.87; and for Lake Ontario 246.13.
Then, for the 35-year period following the opening of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the levels were very greatly reduced. In Lakes Huron and Michigan they were reduced to 578.10, which was the average October level in the year 1935, after 35 years of operation of the Chicago Drainage Canal. That is a colossal depletion of 3.42 feet over the 34,000 square mile area of those two lakes. Lake Erie went down to 570.11, in October 1935, or 2.76 feet below the pre-1900 average, and our own Lake Ontario was reduced to 243.29, or 2.84 feet below the pre-1900 October average.
Just a few minutes ago a gentleman present here informed me that along the shores of Lake Ontario where he has his summer cottage, he has had to dredge so that boats can get out in the lake from his boat house. He estimated that the water level was down three feet. When I told him it was down 2.84 feet in October 1935, he said he had made a pretty good guess.
Anyone going out along the lake shore west of Toronto today, will see at Sunnyside that the break-water is now out of water because of the tremendous depletion of water in the lower Great Lakes.
As I said a moment ago, the Harbour at Montreal was, last year, and, incidentally, it is the same this year--I am now speaking of September as far as Montreal goes 3.37 feet lower than the pre-1900 average.
I venture to say, Mr. Chairman, these facts should direct enquiry into the cause of the shrinkage in St. Lawrence-Great Lakes traffic.
Now, I believe my next step should be to deal with the Chicago diversion itself. I think I may say this: I am not good at telling stories, it is not one of my maim aptitudes to tell a story, but one day in conversation with an engineer he said to me, "I don't think the Chicago Drainage Canal does our Great Lakes very much harm. I don't know that it affects them any." I said, "That sounds to me like a story I heard of figuring backwards. A teacher one day had a class of boys in front of him and he gave them a mathematical problem which was, if a cat fell into a 24-foot dry well and the owner of the cat put a ladder down in the well so the cat might get out, and the cat started to ascend and after ascending 12 feet, thereafter, every time he jumped two feet he fell back three, figure out how that cat can get out of the well. In a moment or two the whole class but little Johnnie Brown gave up and he figured down the one side of his slate, turned the slate over and figured on the other side, took the slate from the boy on the right and figured on both sides and was reaching for the slate of the boy on his left, when the teacher said, "Johnnie what do you figure about the cat? Can you get the cat oust of the well?" "Please, teacher, give me two more slates and I will get it out a t Shanghai, China."
And there is just as much chance of the Chicago Drainage Canal helping the Great Lakes water level as the cat had of getting out in China.
Now, in reference to Chicago, Chicago first commenced to divert water in great volume in the year 1900 and since that time until today it has diverted in various quantities. It has been as low as 5,000 cubic second feet, but, generally, the average has been close to 10,000 cubic second feet, and on occasions it has been over 17,000 cubic second feet of St. Lawrence water out of the Great Lakes, diverted 'into the watershed of the Mississippi, flowing out into the ocean, past the City of New Orleans. That diversion so seriously affected all the States bordering on the Great Lakes that they appealed to Washington, and the President ordered the Supreme Court to hear evidence and to dig into all the information in connection with the diversion, and in 1930 the Supreme Court issued its famous decree which was that Chicago should be permitted during the years 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935 to take from the Great Lakes system for dilution purposes, dilution of its sewage, and it had a tremendous problem-go to Chicago and look over its problem which is the problem of taking care of 4,000,000 people, in addition to packing houses that are equivalent to another 1,000,000, Chicago has a very great problem-the decree permitted them to take for dilution purposes 6500 cubic feet per second and for 1936, 1937 and 1938, they were to reduce to 5,000 cubic second feet, and for 1939 and thereafter to 1500 cubic second feet. But, in addition to that great volume of water for dilution purposes, Chicago also takes, at the present, a little over 1700 cubic feet per second for domestic purposes or a total of 6700 c.f.s.
Now, there isn't any regulation as to the amount Chicago can divert for domestic purposes, so that the domestic takeage from the St. Lawrence watershed has been on the increase and I am convinced that as the takeage in accordance with the Supreme Court decree goes down the takeage for domestic purposes will go up. But while the Supreme Court, following the 'issuing of the decree, concluded that the matter was settled, it does not appear to be. The United States War Department, at the instance of the Chief Engineer of the War Department, sent a report to Congress, asking Congress to give him power to provide if and when he decided that it was necessary for Chicago to have more water, that Chicago should have it. So, as far as I can see, Chicago is quite safe, and will be able to obtain all the water it requires.
Now, during the last five years, Chicago has been diverting 6500 cubic second feet, plus 1700 cubic second feet taken for domestic purposes; and during the present year she is taking 5,000 cubic second feet plus 1700 and after 1939, she is permitted, apart from what she may increase domestic takeage to, to take under the decree, 1500 cubic second feet. Mr. Chairman, those are colossal volumes of water. Let me visualize just what 8200 cubic second feet, which Chicago has been taking during the last five years, is equivalent to. What does that mean? I have read that statisticians have written that the whole of the rainfall, the total rainfall on all) the wheat growing areas of our great western provinces, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, amounts to 15,000,000,000 tons of water in. the wheat growing season. Compare that with what Chicago has been taking--8200 cubic second feet exceeds 8,000,000,000 tons a year. Chicago, for a large portion of the time has been taking approximately ten billion tons of water out of the St. Lawrence watershed and dumping it into the Mississippi watershed, i.e., the equivalent of two-thirds of all the rainfall in our great wheat growing areas of the Western Provinces in a wheat growing season. Those are colossal figures, Mr. Chairman. The statements I make, I carefully compile and see that they are accurate and I believe I am making accurate statements and I hope the people of Canada will realize just what our great national transportation system is up against.
Now, I am going one step further. I want to be frank 'in reference to Chicago. I go over there occasionally and I like to talk to their engineers. Their engineers are splendid men and they are thoroughly conversant with their problem, and what they have to do. (Chicago has received a lot of benefit from the diversion. They have wiped out their typhoid scourge and from a sanitary point of view it has been most beneficial to them. In the second place, it has enabled them to obtain a let o£ power from the diversion across country to the Illinois River. At the first locks or the first power plant at Lockport, Illinois. I believe they develop 36,000 horse power, and at all the seven locks between Chicago and the Mississippi, when finally completed-five are now completed-the potential power is 100,000. That can be generated largely from St. Lawrence water that flows via the Chicago Drainage Canal into the Illinois River. The Canal is also very beneficial for navigation purposes. The St. Lawrence Waterway proponents will have to consider its defence, I mean in the proper manner by improving it. The contest between the Chicago--Mississippi--New Orleans route to the sea and the Great Lakes--Montreal route to the sea is interesting. The locks on the Chicago Canal, I believe, are the third or the fourth largest in the world. The first lock, at Lockport, 37 miles west of Chicago, is 600 feet long and 110 feet wide and will raise a ship 41 feet. Mr. Chairman, that is an immense capacity. Those locks are built for traffic and, in due course, they anticipate a lot of traffic will go via Chicago and New Orleans to the sea. They expect that within a short time the tonnage that will go by that route will reach a total of 5,000,000 tons a year. That, as the harbour commissioners will tell you, is large tonnage. Now, any mathematician can figure out what that means as far as diversion of water goes. For instance, that very first lock, west of Chicago, will take 2,750,000 cubic feet, to operate once, and the average lockage will not be over 3,000 tons, five barges and one pusher of 500 tons each. Figuring on that basis, you will find that 5,000,000 tons of shipping through that canal is going to take a lot of water, apart altogether from sewage requirements or any other requirements, so the St. Lawrence system is always destined, in my mind, to be effected very materially by the diversion of water at Chicago for sanitation, navigation, or for developing power.
Now, I want to say the Chicago diversion is not the only cause of the depletion of the Great Lakes. It is one of them, there are six. The first is diversion; the second deforestation; the third, precipitation; the fourth, regulation works; and the fifth is deepening lake out-let channels and the last is, inversions.
I will not deal with any other diversion, apart from Chicago, other than to state this: When I gave the figures pertaining to Lake Erie some time ago, pointing out that Lake Erie never attained normal level throughout the whole 35 years, I should point out that at Niagara Falls there is a condition which affects the level of that lake, namely, the diversion of 60,000 cubic second feet for purposes of power and canalage. But that water returns to the St. Lawrence system, in Lake Ontario, whereas, every drop diverted at Chicago is forever lost to the St. Lawrence system.
Now, as to forestation. I have made some investigations and I am happy to say that on the American side of the line they are planting, this year, perhaps 50,000,000 trees. We have on our side of the line large areas that are barren that were formerly covered with trees, and, reforestation is one means, Mr. Chairman, that Canada and its government can take toward replenishing the water supply of the Great Lakes, and thousands and thousands of men could be put to work at that, here, on this side of the line, as they are doing on the other side of the line. Men on, this side of the line are standing on the street corners or idling at home, waiting for the dole to come in, whereas, on the other side of the line, some 600,000 are engaged in that and other forest work. Reforestation is one way by which we can revive our great barren areas .and at the same time raise the Great Lakes levels, because engineers tell us, and they should know, that the Great Lakes levels have been decreased to the extent of 3 to 8 inches through cutting of the forests surrounding the Great Lakes on both sides of the line.
As to precipitation, is goes up or down in, proportion to reforestation or deforestation and in proportion to the recovering of the lake shores with water to which the Chairman referred a short time ago. I have gone along Lake Michigan shores and Lake Erie shores and in many places the water is a hundred yards to a quarter of a mile out from where it formerly came to. When the lake shores are uncovered, precipitation decreases as a result. Engineers may not admit it, but, in my humble opinion, I believe the lowering of the Great Lake's levels through the Chicago Drainage Canal has had a large effect on rainfall, because records all show the rainfall decreasing during the last 35 years.
Next, I shall, speak of the deepening of lake outlets. At Sarnia, at the St. Clair flats and in the Detroit River, the government have, as you know, widened and deepened the channels. This increases the flow of water and ship facilities, but the result has been that, that too has lowered Michigan-Huron levels because the water flowed off more quickly down to the ocean. I advocated last year, and I am going to advocate at this year's session, that our Government, on this side of the line, should get in touch with the Government on the other side of the line and should erect control works at Sarnia and control works--at Niagara, and control works in the St. Lawrence River, to regulate the flow in the St. Clair, the Niagara and the St. Lawrence Rivers.
So far, I haven't referred to Lake Superior. The water level of Lake Superior remains standard, at approximately 602 feet, because there are fine and efficient control works that regulate the water and do not let it flow away from the lake too rapidly. That, too, has had an effect on lowering the level of the lower Great Lakes. Now, we have to do the same thing at Sarnia and the governments here have to wake up and try and save the water level of the two great lakes, Huron and Michigan, at least to the extent of raising the level to the extent that control works can and do in the Niagara River, and in the St. Lawrence River. I believe there are small control works at Sorel but they are not very effective. They should be of a size that will return and restore the water levels of this great transportation system, so much of which is in Canada and belongs to Canada. Control works would do that.
That brings me to the last item, and I am getting near the end of my time. Inversions. I want to deal with the proposed Ogoki inversion. Chicago hasn't any objection to the inversion of the Ogoki River. And while the Province of Ontario has no right to divert the Ogoki water, it is planning to do so. That is a Federal matter, not a provincial matter. Yet, Chicago will accept, if it comes her way. Anything worth while that is given free, they are always glad to take. I should also like to compliment our friends on the other side of the line on their keen business ability in getting all they can. In any divertion of the Ogoki River they will certainly get something, for engineers have pointed out that the equivalent water would never reach Niagara Falls but would flow out of the St. Lawrence system, through Lake Michigan and out at Chicago, into the Chicago Drainage Canal, and down to the Mississippi River.
In connection with the Ogoki River, I made an elaborate study. I went up to the river. It was a very arduous trip, for a man of my weight. I believe the distance was about two hundred miles north of Lake Superior. It took practically six days. I was accompanied by two Indians and a very capable newspaper man, Mr. Roy Snider. He is an exceptional writer and an experienced man to have on a trip like that. I remember when crossing Modjikit lake, the Indians and Mr. Snider thought I should be excited on account of a storm. I was too ignorant of the danger to be excited. The Indians and Roy were worrying about what I might do. I was sitting quite blissfully, enjoying the storm and was realty quite sorry when we got across the lake. It was some trip! I thoroughly looked into the proposed diversion of the Ogoki River. The Chicago engineers had studied every possible detail and all available information about the diversion and their engineers estimated that their cost of the diversion of the Ogoki River would be approximately $155,000,000. They figured materials for over 300 miles of dykes and dams they believed necessary to conserve the waters of the Albany and the Ogoki Rivers and then discarded the scheme as too costly. They are not interested in it today, unless we give them a free gift, as I said a few minutes ago, and if we divert a lot of water into the Great Lakes, that they require, they are not going to object. Fancy the creation of a new lake of several thousand square miles area in. Northern Ontario which would be the result of damming the Ogoki and Albany. But the original scheme cannot be carried out today because the Hydro has already started to develop power on the Albany River at the outlet of Lake St. Joseph, so the scheme that is considered now is much less than that first proposed and which Chicago estimated on. However, I am convinced of this, Mr. Chairman, engineers will differ, and, while Chicago engineers figured the approximate cost at $155,000,000, for the first proposal, other engineers estimate the present proposal would not exceed $5,000,000., and you have read in the press of estimates of a million and a half to five million dollars. Well, I have a keen recollection, and I am sure the taxpayers of Canada have a keen recollection of when the construction of the National Transcontinental was proposed and that the estimated cost was less than $20,000,000, but the taxpayers will remember that the amount it did cost was much closer to $200,000,000. And you remember when the Chippewa Canal was proposed it was to cost a limited amount of money, and every one knows what the last staggering total of the cost of the Chippewa Canal was. I am not finding any fault, I think it was a good investment, no matter what it cost, and it has done a great deal.
Thus in conclusion, I just say this: Go slow with the diversion of the Ogoki River. Do as the Chicago engineers did, check and double check, and then stop. Canada can use every last drop of her water in this country. There is lots of power on the Ogoki River that could be developed, up there. If that large area is submerged, any minerals therein will be submerged, and the forests and Indian hunting lands to the extent of 3,000 to 5,000 square miles will be submerged. The loss to the Province of Ontario will be a staggering number of millions of dollars. I will say further, that after making a thorough investigation in the State of Wisconsin, looking into the proposed scheme of reservoirs and conservation of water in that State, I am convinced there is a lot of water on the American side of the line that Chicago can get, but let Canada look after its own water in its own country and if any part is to be developed, develop it within our own borders. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. MacNicol, may I thank you on behalf of the Empire Club of Canada for this very instructive and interesting address, and for the facts which you have put before many of us for the first time. May I also presume to thank you on behalf of all Canadians for the effort you have put forth in personally investigating this situation and fighting for something which quite obviously is something Canada should fight for. I might say, as far as the Empire Club of Canada is concerned, we have no politics and we are not concerned with which ever government puts the remedial legislation through as long as something is done. Thank you again for coming to us today. (Applause.)