International Lake Superior Board of Control

Frequently Asked Questions


The purpose of these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) is to provide stakeholders throughout the upper Great Lakes with information on how the International Lake Superior Board of Control (ILSBC, or Board) manages the Lake Superior outflows under the direction of the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) “Orders of Approval” while also ensuring the most equitable distribution of benefits and impacts for all citizens living and working along this magnificent and spectacular watercourse.

These FAQs represent questions that have commonly been asked or address areas where the Board feels that additional information would be useful for the public. The Board would sincerely appreciate your comments and suggestions in order to provide the best information and perspective for you, the citizens of the upper Great Lakes and stakeholders, regarding management of its waters for all interests (Contact Us).

The Board encourages you to visit the International Lake Superior Board of Control Facebook page for more information. It is a great forum to voice your comments and concerns, ask questions, and to learn from questions that others have asked.

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This FAQ Site is organized with the following sections:

SECTION 1: Governance and Decision-Making

1.1. The Boundary Waters Treaty
  1.1.1.  What is the Boundary Waters Treaty?
  1.1.2.  What are the principal provisions of the Boundary Waters Treaty regarding projects such as dams?
  1.1.3. Does the Boundary Waters Treaty give precedence to some uses over others?
1.2. The International Joint Commission (IJC)
  1.2.1. What is the IJC?
  1.2.2. How does the IJC work?
  1.2.3. What are the Orders of Approval?
  1.2.4. What are the principal provisions of the Orders of Approval for the upper Great Lakes?
  1.2.5. Are Orders of Approval ever updated?
  1.2.6. How does the IJC engage the public?
1.3. International Lake Superior Board of Control
  1.3.1. What is the International Lake Superior Board of Control?
  1.3.2. Who is on the Board?
  1.3.3. How are members of the Board appointed?
  1.3.4. Does the Board take formal votes on its decisions?
  1.3.5. What is done to ensure that the public has input into Board decisions?
  1.3.6. Are records of Board decisions accessible to the public?
  1.3.7. How does the Board increase public awareness of water and weather conditions?
1.4. Operators of the Control Structures
  1.4.1. Who actually operates the control structures at Sault Ste. Marie?


SECTION 2: Regulation

2.1. What does the Board regulate?
2.2. How does the Board go about regulation?
2.3. What is Plan 2012? What is its objective?
2.4. Who are the Regulation Representatives and what are their duties?
2.5. What are the criteria that the Board uses in making decisions?
What other regulations and standards does the Board use in making its decisions?
What authority does the Board have to consider individual interests when setting Lake Superior outflows?
2.8. What actions do the IJC and Board take to react to low water supplies and avert extreme low water levels in the upper Great Lakes?
Can water be stored on Lake Superior to provide a buffer against low water conditions downstream?
2.10. What adaptive measures should water users and property owners be taking above and below the control structures to protect against adverse impacts, and will the Board be taking actions to encourage such measures to be implemented?


SECTION 3: Influences on Water Levels and Flows

3.1. Why do levels and flows fluctuate in the upper Great Lakes?
3.2. Water gained from precipitation and lost from evaporation, and wind are the major natural forces affecting lake levels. How significant are these forces, and why?
3.3. What influence does isostatic rebound have on lake levels and water access around the shorelines of the upper Great Lakes?
3.4. What influences do climate change and other long-term factors have on water levels and water access around the shoreline?
What is the significance of the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions? What about the Chicago Diversion?
How does ice affect lake evaporation and lake levels?
Doesn’t knowing the snowpack provide a reliable indicator of the water supplies for the spring and summer season?


SECTION 4: Effects of Regulation on Levels and Flows

4.1. What was the purpose of the hydropower projects?
4.2. What caused changes in lake levels before regulation, and what is causing changes after regulation?
What was the “natural” annual cycle of lake levels before regulation in comparison with after regulation?
4.4. Why were lake levels different prior to regulation than they have been since regulation?
What has caused changes in levels of the St. Marys River since regulation?
What were the “natural” levels in the St. Marys River downstream of Sault Ste. Marie before regulation?
4.7. How are the long-term, lake-wide average lake levels computed?
How do the actual levels on Lake Superior and Lake Michigan-Huron differ from the Plan-specified levels?
What actions does the Board take to manage ice conditions in the St. Marys River during the winter?
4.10. Why can’t the Lake Superior level be kept at the average level all year round?
4.11. The water levels have changed a lot recently. What has the Board done?
4.12. Why is the flow in the St. Marys Rapids high when Lake Superior flows are high? What are the benefits and/or disadvantages of such a situation?
4.13. How does regulation of Lake Superior mitigate flooding conditions in Soo Harbour area?


SECTION 5: Impacts on Various Interests

5.1. General
 5.1.1. What is the value of high water? Who is impacted?
 5.1.2. What is the value of low water? Who is impacted?
 5.1.3. At what lake levels do adverse impacts from low or high water occur?
 5.1.4. What can shoreline communities do, if anything, to assist the Board?
 5.1.5. What water level information is available?
Domestic Water Supplies and Sanitary Uses
 5.2.1. How can high or low lake levels affect domestic and sanitary uses?
Commercial Navigation
 5.3.1. How can the regulation of Lake Superior outflows impact commercial navigation?
 5.3.2. Are navigation interests impacted by lake levels?
 5.4.1. Do hydropower interests benefit from high Lake Superior outflows?
 5.4.2. When the Board increases outflows from Lake Superior is the water spilt or is it still used to generate electricity?
 5.4.3. What are peaking and ponding? Do peaking and ponding impact water levels?
 5.5.1. How is the environment considered when setting Lake Superior outflows?
 5.5.2. Has regulation had an adverse impact on wetlands of Lake Superior or Lake Michigan-Huron?
 5.5.3. Has regulation impacted the St. Marys River environment and what are the St. Marys Rapids Fishery Remedial Works?
Riparian and Shoreline Property Owners
 5.6.1. What factors affect shoreline flooding and erosion?
 5.6.2. Are certain areas more sensitive to water level fluctuations?
 5.6.3. What have been the benefits to riparian property owners as a result of Lake Superior regulation?
 5.6.4. Are there ways to address low water problems other than through regulating water levels?
 5.6.5. Are there ways to address flooding and erosion problems other than through regulating water levels?
 5.6.6. What can I, as a landowner, do to protect myself from high water damages to my property? What can the Board do to help me?
Recreational Boating
 5.7.1. Other than water level regulation, are there any actions that could benefit recreational boaters?
5.8. Angling
 5.8.1. As an angler, how does regulation affect me?