News Story

Newspapers, Experts Agree: Climate Causes Plummeting, Record High Water Levels

Looks like a Great Lakes consensus

Michigan Radio reported recently that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is proposing $70 million in grants for projects “to combat the effects of climate change connected to high water levels.” The Detroit Free recently reported that “changing climate conditions” have “caused water levels in the Great Lakes to be at record highs.”

But 32 years ago, a changing climate was projected to bring a different problem to the Great Lakes – water levels that were too low.

Back then it was called global warming.

A review of news articles and editorials from 1988 shows that many reporters and editors blamed global warming for Great Lakes water levels becoming so low they would wreak havoc on the economy, environment and society.

In a June 30, 1988, editorial, the Detroit Free Press wrote, “Moreover, scientists claim that the lakes already face major depletion in future years because of evaporation caused by global warming and the demands of utility plants for huge amounts of water to generate hydroelectric power.”

In a story on the same day, the newspaper explained for laypersons how global warming would change Great Lakes water levels.

The story reported on a Great Lakes conference on global warming that took place in Illinois.

“Studies presented at the conference projected that the gradual accumulation of carbon dioxide and some other gasses in the upper atmosphere may cause a four-to-nine degree Fahrenheit temperature increase in the region as early as 2030. That could cause a decline of about two to nine feet in Great Lakes water levels and trigger major economic, environmental and social change. ...”

On Sept. 9, 1988, the Detroit Free Press published a story titled, “How lake levels could drop.”

“Within 50 years,” it explained, “the ‘greenhouse effect’ could increase temperatures enough so that Great Lakes levels would drop dramatically – from three to seven feet – and trigger economic and environmental upheaval throughout the region, government researchers have concluded.”

Another article concluded, “A recent study by the NOAA laboratory in Ann Arbor found an increased greenhouse effect could cause the Great Lakes’ water level to drop from three to seven feet within the next 50 years. … The researchers acknowledge the possibility of error in their computer models.”

On July 12, 1988, the Petoskey News-Review wrote, “Thirty years ago, scientists who predicted the continued burning of coal, oil and gas would create a global ‘greenhouse effect’ that would warm the atmosphere and change Earth’s climate were labelled prophets of doom. Today, they’re just called prophets. Their prediction apparently has come true.”

The newspaper then reported, “Here’s what lies ahead”:

“Lower water levels in lakes and streams, warmer and drier summers and winters and change in the composition of our forests are just a few effects that will hit our area as a result of the ‘greenhouse effect.’”

That article also stated, “David M. Gates, a botanist at the University of Michigan’s biological station, said the warmer and drier weather produced by the greenhouse effect will lower the levels of Northern Michigan lakes and streams, including the Great Lakes, and thus create navigational problems.”

On Sept. 9, 1988, The Associated Press reported that under a worst-case scenario, researchers feared “much of the 460-square-mile Lake St. Clair, which joins the St. Clair and Detroit rivers between Lakes Huron and Erie, could disappear.”

A Jan. 8, 2020, story by WJBK reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting Lake St. Clair water levels will “be well above the average levels” and water levels in the Great Lakes will continue to rise even more in during the year.