Drought Drying Up Great Lakes

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A joint U.S.-Canadian advisory panel on Wednesday recommended tough limits on selling water from the Great Lakes -- even to help ease the drought in other parts of North America.

That’s because water levels in the Great Lakes are going down, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

The water level on Lake Michigan is dropping this year at the fastest rate ever recorded.

Dr. Frank Quinn, a hydrologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says "It's really a continuation of the La Nina conditions that we've had the last two years."

La Nina has brought a drought that has meant less rain and snow to replenish the lakes. Warmer temperatures have kept huge ice packs that typically limit evaporation from forming.

Quinn says, "When you have cold air coming over much warmer water, it literally sucks the water right up."

Lakes Michigan and Huron, which together cover 45,000 square miles, are the lowest they've been in 35 years and still dropping. Their water level has gone down 10 inches since last fall, and 3 feet over the last three years. In fact, it is less than a foot from all-time lows.

But what is an inconvenience for fishermen and pleasure boaters can mean big money to the enormous commercial shipping industry on the Great Lakes. For every inch the water level drops, freighters are forced to leave 270 tons of cargo lying on the dock.

Dan Cornillie of Ispat Inland Steel, says, "Initially we were estimating the impact at a million dollars this year but it's going to be worse given what's happened so far this season with the lake levels.”

And the water will likely continue to fall. In fact, experts believe it could drop to record low levels before bottoming out. For the millions of people around the Great Lakes this wave of weather may take a long time to ride out.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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