Water: The Next Scapegoat, Pt 2

On at least two occasions, the National Geographic Magazine has published stories about water levels in the Great Lakes, attempting to establish that global warming was a threat, and that water usage should be curtailed.

Here’s a quote from the magazine1: “The world’s largest freshwater system has shrunk before, but never so quickly. In Traverse City, Michigan, empty chaises at a resort—on what once was lake bottom—reflect how the Great Lakes tourist economy has slipped in sync with falling water levels. And the farther the waters recede, the higher anxiety rises.”

The articles title was: “Down the Drain: The Incredible Shrinking Great Lakes.”

Here’s another headline from the National Geographic Magazine: “The Great Lakes hold a fifth of Earth’s surface fresh water, and they’ve shrunk dramatically. If it keeps up, shipping and fisheries could be left high and dry.”

Fortunately, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) maintains water level records for the Great Lakes. As they point out, “Great Lakes water levels constitute one of the longest high quality hydrometeorological data sets in North America with reference gauge records beginning about 1860 with sporadic records back to the early 1800s.  These levels are collected and archived by NOAA’s National Ocean Service.”

Go to http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/now/wlevels/dbd  for these charts. The interactive charts are a resource that high school students and others should use.

The chart shows that nearly all the Great Lakes are at, or slightly above, their long term average levels.

Reviewing the charts show that water levels in all the Great Lakes have varied over the past century.

Lake Superior, for example, had its lowest water level in 1926.

Lakes Michigan-Huron had their lowest water levels in 1964.

Lake Erie had its lowest water levels between 1934 and 1936.

Lake Ontario had its lowest water level in 1965.

When all the lakes are viewed together, it’s clear that levels have risen and fallen for various reasons since 1860.

There is no apocalypse due to global warming.

Great Lakes Satellite Image from Wikipedia
Great Lakes Satellite Image from Wikipedia

Water is being used as a club by activists in their efforts to curtail fracking and the building of power plants.

Coal-fired, natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) and nuclear power plants need water to remove heat from condensate, i.e., water formed when steam cools. While this water is withdrawn from lakes and rivers, 90% is returned to the lake or river from which it was drawn. This can cause localized increases in water temperatures that could have an effect on the ecology in the immediate area of the discharge. Cooling towers have been used where the localized heating has been seen as a problem.

Water is a critical resource, and the United States has been blessed with abundant supplies of water across most of the country. The lack of water in some countries, and in America’s Southwest, shouldn’t be the reason to preclude energy development in areas where water is plentiful.

Water usage is associated with the use of fossil fuels, which is why activists attempt to create an image of imminent disaster from water shortages.

Whenever a newspaper or magazine, such as the Wall Street Journal or National Geographic publishes an article about water levels in the Great Lakes, go to the NOAA website to see whether the article is factually correct. Open the interactive chart so that all the years between 1860 and 2011 can be seen.



For those who wish to verify that the quotations weren’t taken out of context, they may be seen at the National Geographic web Site at:




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