|Boaters Non Grata with IJC & NOAA|
By Jennifer McKay, Policy Specialist, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
In every issue, there are many sides or perspectives or stakeholder opinions that can, or at least should, be taken into consideration. Take the Great Lakes and its many issues—invasive species, toxic sediments, contaminated fish, beach closures, low water levels, just to name a few. The sides or stakeholders for each of these issues are numerous: governments, businesses and industries, shoreline property owners, environmental organizations, and of course, there are Great Lakes boaters.
With more than 4.3 million boaters in the Great Lakes region, recreational boating certainly has many voices on the water. And yet, we are not a force to be reckoned with. In fact, despite the large number of voices, often recreational boating is not even sitting at the table or adequately represented or included in any part of the decision making processes that attempt to address the threats facing the Great Lakes.
For example, recently the United States and Canada launched an intensive study to determine why water levels in the Upper Great Lakes decreased to near-record lows. The study is being led by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a binational organization charged with shaping policy for U.S. and Canadian waterways. The study by the IJC is considering a number of possible causes from natural ecological processes to climate change to erosion caused by the dredging in the St. Clair River.
As part of the International Upper Great Lakes Study, there is a Public Interest Advisory Group (PIAG). The purpose of the PIAG is to provide assistance and guidance with respect to public involvement and participation in the decision making process. As such, members of the PIAG are supposed to represent the various sectors of the public that are affected or could be affected by low water levels in the Upper Great Lakes. For the purposes of this study, the public includes “federal, provincial, state, regional and local governments, Tribes and First Nations, environment, commercial navigation and recreational boating, hydroelectric power generation, water supply and stormwater/sewage treatment, riparians and the general public.”
On the positive side, recreational boating is considered and listed as a group that will be affected by low water levels and, therefore, has an interest in the study being conducted and the decisions that may ultimately be made in response to the findings of the study. However, recreational boating is not directly represented through membership on the Public Interest Advisory Group.
The representation comes through the marinas that are part of the PIAG, which provides a small perspective from the recreational boating community, although it is not exactly the same. As water levels recede, marinas will have fewer slips to sell to boaters and the need to dredge boat slips, channels and harbors to accommodate boater needs will increase dramatically, costing millions. However, this perspective is different than that of the recreational boater. With low lake levels, our boating season can be cut short by four to six weeks. Additionally, boaters will become increasingly concentrated in certain areas as lake levels drop, which could ultimately lead to an increase in accidents and additional damage to boats as groundings become more common. Damage to boat owners could even be profitable to some marinas that could then have repair work for the damaged boats.
Another example of how the recreational boating community is not adequately represented is with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA provides many great services to Great Lakes boaters, especially through the National Marine Weather Service, providing maritime weather forecast and warnings, and the Sea Grant program, which provides education on a variety of topics such as aquatic invasive species and boater safety. The Sea Grant program’s mission is “to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources to create a sustainable economy and environment.”