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Great Lakes Water Levels: Shoreline Dilemmas : Report on a Colloquium

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Great Lakes Water Levels

Shoreline Dilemmas : Report on a Colloquium(1989)



Much is known about the causes, characteristics, and consequences of Great Lakes water level fluctuation. Nevertheless, human activities around the lakes have evolved in a way that exposes many people and structures to a hazard of substantial proportions. Every indication is that the magnitude of this hazard will increase in the future. Engineering solutions to minimize this hazard have been proposed but never have been implemented. After repeated studies, the effectiveness of these measures remains controversial, and their cost-effectiveness is in doubt.

Public policy toward the development and protection of shore lands appears to be at odds with the physical realities of the lakes. In fact, many of the experts involved in this colloquium argued that existing policy seems to assume the possibility, even the probability, of an engineered solution. Yet alternative policies, more reflective of the limits of technology and of sensible cost-benefit tradeoffs, face significant legal, institutional, political, and social constraints.

Great Lakes Water Levels: Shoreline Dilemmas explains the recommendations and events of the colloquium. This report explains that many of the Great Lakes' problems could be resolved, provided the need to do so is widely perceived for a sufficiently long period. In this case, however, the lakes are not cooperating. After reaching record high levels in 1986, water levels began to fall, and the public sense of urgency waned soon thereafter. Many colloquium participants referred to this relationship between water levels and levels of public interests. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to find a way to formulate and win acceptance for a sensible Great Lakes management policy in the absence of a water level crisis.


Suggested Citation

National Research Council. 1989. Great Lakes Water Levels: Shoreline Dilemmas : Report on a Colloquium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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172 pages |5 x 9

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