A Great Lakes Adventure: Managing Water Levels (Dammed If You Do)
It's spring on Lake Ontario and, for a group of scientists and engineers from the U.S. and Canada, the annual headache can begin. The International St. Lawrence River Board of Control has the unenviable power of regulating Lake Ontario’s water levels. Higher levels make boaters and shipping companies happy, because they literally float their boats. But for lakefront homeowners, high water means watching waves steadily erode their backyards. If the board decides to keep levels lower, homeowners rejoice as the water recedes, but boats are left high and dry and shipping vessels must skim tons of cargo from their holds to float higher in the water.
Wilcox and Sciremammano recently spoke to a group of journalists participating in a fellowship of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources, a non-profit dedicated to getting journalists out in the field and up-close to environment stories. Standing amid tussocks of sedge grass and stands of cattails in a marsh near Cape Vincent, New York, he explained that muskrats have evolved to take advantage of steady winter water levels. They make mounded dens out of dirt and cattails and then dig a tunnel with an underwater entrance. When the lake and its marshes ice over, the muskrat spends winter underneath the ice cap, venturing out of its tunnel into the deeper, unfrozen water to find food. They often chew holes in the ice and create mini-lodges called “push-ups” that serve as rest stops during long swims.
Second Post in a Series:
Coming soon: The Curious Case of the American Eel.