Near-historic lows in Lake Superior, along with years of drought inland, are turning the Kakagon Sloughs, the largest coastal wetland in the Great Lakes, into dry land.
The level in Lake Superior so far in April is 182.86 meters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, compared with the historic low of 182.69 meters, set in 1926. That is a difference of about 6 inches, and between one and two feet lower than 2006.
… particularly vulnerable in the sloughs of Bad River is the harvest from one of the largest wild rice beds in the world.
As water recedes from banks of the channels, wild rice bushes are by no means the lone victims. Lower water levels also reduce habitat for the young fry and fingerlings of walleye, perch and pike, among other species, forcing all aquatic life to live with less elbow room (and hiding space) in a more narrow channel.
Further inland, the drought is also having an impact on lakes and streams that never touch Lake Superior, as low levels that lead to warmer temperatures could have a lasting impact on aquatic life.
“I don’t think, right now, we’re in a crisis situation on the inland lakes,” said Cristopher Sand, a fisheries biologist for the DNR who studies inland waters in Bayfield and Douglas counties. “But, given the lack of precipitation over the decade and higher air temperatures, there is cause for concern that our fish communities may change as a result.”
Precipitation necessary for Lake Superior, along with evaporation that draws water from it, is just as vital for “seepage” lakes inland that have no inlet or outlet, Sand said.
Warmer temperatures without the corresponding rain dry up not only lakes, Sand said, but other areas like the Bibon swamp, which is fed by the White River.
Barring a monsoon that dumps buckets of water on the region, it could take years of steady precipitation if levels are to return to normal.
Officially, the lake is about 18 inches below normal, and more than a foot below the level at this time last spring. In March, the lake came within a few inches of reaching the all-time record low set in 1926.
As it does every April, the lake level is moving up. But it’s not going up as much as usual. It’s possible the lake could set monthly low records this summer if rainfall across the lake’s watershed doesn’t increase.
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