Last week, the St. Lawrence Seaway, a so-called engineering marvel that backers promised would be an economic boon the Great Lakes region turned fifty years old.
The series of seven locks and three dams in the St. Lawrence River between Lake Ontario and Montreal was promoted as means of bringing increased economic activity to ports across the Great Lakes. Supporters said that $1 billion project would increase international shipping on the Great Lakes and bring millions to communities on the Lakes. However, international traffic accounts for only 7% of all shipping traffic on the Great Lakes.
Instead, environmental groups say that the Seaway has been an environmental disaster. They point to the introduction of as many of 57 invasive species as a result of the Seaway:
“Since 1959, international shipping has been the primary source of new non-native aquatic invasive species, such as the zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes. The University of Notre Dame estimates that such species cost citizens, businesses and cities in the eight Great Lakes states alone at least $200 million per year in damages to the commercial and recreational fisheries, wildlife watching tourism, and through increased water infrastructure costs. While exact economic data does not exist for the Great Lakes region in Canada, similar damages can be expected.”
Great Lakes United, the National Wildlife Federation, and Save the River are calling for changes in how the Seaway is operated to reduce its environmental impact, including plans to mitigate invasive species and deal with lower water levels brought on by global warming.