Great Lakes Shipping Threatened by Historic Water Lows

While water levels are low, a MARAD report shows there is a potential for improvement to the shipping industry in the future.

The $34 billion shipping industry in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway might be at risk as water levels are historically low. For more than a decade, water levels in the Great Lakes have been below average. In fact, according to The New York Times, the monthly mean was the lowest recorded since 1918.

While the low levels may be inconvenient for recreational visitors to the lake, shippers of coal, iron ore, limestone, and salt that depend on the lakes for transportation are now at risk, as well. To combat the low water levels, shipowners have had to diminish the loads transported, decreasing efficiency.

While these record lows may seem dangerous, a DOT Maritime Administration report issued in early 2013, "Status of the U.S.-Flag Great Lakes Water Transportation Industry," shows potential improvement for the future.

"Supported by responsible regulation and infrastructure maintenance, [the Great Lakes Shipping Industry] will remain an essential part of the regional and national economies by providing reliable and inexpensive transportation of the raw inputs needed by the region's steel mills, construction and manufacturing establishments, and power generation plants," the report said.

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