Lake Erie Facts


  • 872 miles shoreline
  • 241 miles east to west
  • 57 miles north to south
  • 9,910 square miles
  • 30,140 square miles drained
  • 6 year turnover rate (30-50 days western basin)
  • 90% of water from the upper Great Lakes via Detroit River
  • More consumable fish than all other Great Lakes Combined


Lake Erie (French: Lac Érié) is the fourth-largest lake (by surface area) of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the eleventh-largest globally if measured in terms of surface area.It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes[7][8] and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. At its deepest point Lake Erie is 210 feet (64 metres) deep.

Situated on the International Boundary between Canada and the United States, Lake Erie's northern shore is the Canadian province of Ontario, specifically the Ontario Peninsula, with the U.S. states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York on its western, southern, and eastern shores. These jurisdictions divide the surface area of the lake with water boundaries.

The lake was named by the Erie people, a Native American people who lived along its southern shore. The tribal name "erie" is a shortened form of the Iroquoian word erielhonan, meaning "long tail".

Situated below Lake Huron, Erie's primary inlet is the Detroit River. The main natural outflow from the lake is via the Niagara River, which provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the U.S. as it spins huge turbines near Niagara Falls at Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario. . Some outflow occurs via the Welland Canal, part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which diverts water for ship passages from Port Colborne, Ontario on Lake Erie, to St. Catharines on Lake Ontario, an elevation difference of 326 ft (99 m). Lake Erie's environmental health has been an ongoing concern for decades, with issues such as overfishing, pollution, algae blooms, and eutrophication generating headlines


Lake Erie Islands tend to be located in the western side of the lake and total 31 in number (13 in Canada, 18 in the U.S.). The island-village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island is a major tourism attraction.  Kelleys Island has deep glacial grooves left in limestone."[ Pelee Island is the largest of Erie's islands, accessible by ferry from Leamington, Ontario and Sandusky, Ohio. The island has a "fragile and unique ecosystem" with plants rarely found in Canada, such as wild hyacinth, yellow horse gentian and prickly pear cactus, as well as two endangered snakes, the blue racer and the Lake Erie water snake. Songbirds migrate to Pelee in spring, and monarch butterflies stop over during the fall.


Lake Erie is home to one of the world's largest freshwater commercial fisheries. Lake Erie's fish populations are the most abundant of the Great Lakes, partially because of the lake's relatively mild temperatures and plentiful supply of plankton, which is the basic building block of the food chain. The lake's fish population accounts for an estimated 50% of all fish inhabiting the Great Lakes. The lake is "loaded with superstars" such as steelhead, walleye (American usage) or pickerel (Canadian usage),smallmouth bass, perch, as well as bass, trout, salmon, whitefesh, smelt, and many others[] The lake consists of a long list of well established introduced species. Common non-indigenous fish species include the rainbow smelt, alewife, white perch and common carp. Non-native sport fish such as rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked specifically for anglers to catch. Attempts failed to stock coho salmon and its numbers are once again dwindling. Commercial landings are dominated by yellow perch and walleye, with substantial quantities of rainbow smelt and white bass also taken. Anglers target walleye and yellow perch, with some effort directed at rainbow trout. A variety of other species are taken in smaller quantities by both commercial and sport fleets.

Estimates vary about the fishing market for the Great Lakes region. One estimate of the total market for fishing, including commercial as well as sport or recreational fishing, for all of the Great Lakes, was $4 billion annually, in 2007. A second estimate was that the fishing industry was valued at more than $7 billion.]

Commercial fishing is now predominantly based in Canadian communities, with a much smaller fishery—largely restricted to yellow perch—in Ohio.

In winter when the lake freezes, many fishermen go out on the ice, cut holes, and fish. It is even possible to build bonfires on the ice. But venturing on Lake Erie ice can be dangerous.


The lake has been a "bustling thoroughfare" for maritime vessels for centuries. Ships headed eastward can take the Welland Canal and a series of eight locks descending 326 feet (99 m) to Lake Ontario which takes about 12 hours. Generally there is heavy traffic on the lake except during the winter months from January through March when ice prevents vessels from traveling safely.  The ship traffic in Lake Erie being the highest among the Great Lakes  and roughest of the lakes has led to it having the highest number of known shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. The Port of Cleveland generated over $350 million and over 15 million tons of cargo in a recent year.


Lake Erie and its importance to Birds

When one thinks about Lake Erie visions of boating and fishing and other recreational opportunities are often conjured up. But for a bird-watcher, the lake shores and open waters provide a spectacle like no other in the entire Great Lakes. Waterfowl galore pack marshes and the open lake waters, and interesting marsh birds breed in coastal wetlands. Winter brings hardy northern ducks, gulls, and raptors. There is never a dull season.


The Lake Erie Marsh Region is recognized as globally important for migratory birds as millions of migratory songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl stop here to feed and rest every spring and fall during their long-distance migrations. Lake Erie shorelines and attendant inland natural areas are also home to a large number of permanent residents. Nearly 400 bird species have been documented in this region. Visiting birders travel to this region of northwest Ohio to observe and enjoy this spectacle, bringing millions of dollars to local lakeshore communities.

Why is Lake Erie such an attractive and important place for birds? Lake Erie represents a barrier to most migrating passerines (perching birds) and raptors. Many birds are reluctant to cross open water when the opposite shoreline cannot be seen, which results in major concentrations along the southwestern shore of Lake Erie in the spring, unparalleled in the Midwest. The opposite phenomenon occurs on the north shore of Lake Erie in autumn, making public areas like Long Point, Point Pelee, Holiday Beach and every private piece of habitat in between extremely valuable for resting and feeding areas for birds in migration.

With the exception of the Gulf coast, no other region of eastern North America can demonstrate concentrations of avian migrants like Lake Erie’s coastline. Important migratory pathways and habitat along Great Lakes shorelines have been identified at more than 60 sites; and 95% of the waterfowl counted on a recent Ohio Division of Wildlife aerial survey occurs in the Lake Erie marsh region.
The landscape along Lake Erie has been dramatically altered from pre-settlement conditions yet the region remains important for birds to rest and feed so they can continue their migration in good physiological condition. Unfortunately, habitat loss in the region continues, potentially jeopardizing the ability of birds to maintain sufficient condition to successfully complete their migration. Consequently, it is critical and urgent to define, protect, restore, and better manage migratory bird stopover sites in the western Lake Erie basin.

The Western Lake Erie Basin IBA holds the largest concentration of waterfowl anywhere in Ohio during migration. Sandusky Bay and surrounding areas provide refuge for one million waterfowl during fall and early winter staging, with the bay hosting a peak of 290,000 at one time, including up to 67,000 American Black Ducks and over 170,000 Red-breasted Mergansers. As any true birder knows, birding opportunities in Northern Ohio improve as the temperatures drop, the leaves fall and frost covers our car windshields in the morning. As the majority of songbirds and shorebirds have departed on the long journeys southward, waterfowl and boreal species begin to arrive in impressive numbers. The bald eagle remains and its largest numbers are found in northwest Ohio
Birds that nested and fledged in the Arctic and on prairie potholes during the summer thrill local birders each fall, and promise to stick around until ice forms on area lakes, ponds and streams.
Occasional red-throated loons intermingle with hundreds of common loons, rafts of ruddy ducks & common goldeneyes, tens of thousands of mergansers and other diving ducks, thousands of gulls and hundreds of grebes which can be found annually during the spring and fall months along protected embayments of Lake Erie.
During the breeding season, off-shore islands provide nesting locations for colonies of gulls, cormorants, terns, egrets, and herons.

The water bodies and associated habitats provide both thermals and prey to assist birds of prey (raptors) as they migrate. Raptor migration along the south shore of Lake Erie is unlike other well-known migration sites in that there is no single cliff face, ridge, or funneling point to concentrate soaring birds into one main flight path. Therefore, reluctant to cross the open waters of Lake Erie, where no thermals will form, these migrating hawks, vultures, accipiters, and eagles follow the lakeshore westward, curving around Maumee Bay and then head north for distant nesting grounds. Especially concentrated in early spring, as many as 1000 raptors may pass overhead daily.

Lake Erie marshes make up the largest stopover habitats in the eastern United States between coastal habitats and northern breeding areas. More than 30 species of shorebirds migrate through the Lake Erie marshes each year, but different species as well as different ages within a species appear at different times of the year and choose different microhabitats.

Species timing, habitat availability and utilization all affect numbers of shorebirds use marshes and flooded farm fields during their twice-a-year migration through the Lake Erie watersheds. Sixty to 150,000 birds have been counted in the marsh region of NW Ohio in a single year. The Lake Erie marshes are the most important stopover sites between Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas and Delaware Bay on the east coast. Research and bird counts have helped in including this area as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). This designation exemplifies the value of these wetlands for supplying shorebirds with necessary habitat and food for their long-distance migration. Future land acquisition and restoration grants will be boosted in value because of this Regional Shorebird status.

The newly dedicated Lake Erie Birding Trail covers the entire 312 miles of Ohio shoreline, from Conneaut to Toledo. The Lake Erie shore and its immediate environs offer some of the best birding in the Great Lakes region. The 84 trail sites represent over 30 federal, state, county, and local park districts and management agencies.

In 2006, about 120,000 out-of-state-birders visited Ohio, with Lake Erie the most popular destination. Nationwide, birder expenditures total nearly $36 billion, and related industry benefits magnify this to about $82 billion in overall economic impact. As bird and other wildlife-watcher numbers continue to grow, it is important that local businesses realize the impact that these visitors have on their bottom line.

Birding Organizations Ohio

Central Basin/Cuyahoga

The Central Basin of Lake Erie includes the Cleveland, Huron, Vermillion, Ashtabula communities. The algae related issues in the central basin are dead zones which come from the dying/decaying algae in the western basin. Lake Erie Waterkeeper seeks to identify opportunities and challenges for the waters in the Central Basin, which begins east of the Huron River and goes to the Pennsylvania border. The Central Basin/Cleveland Program is focused on addressing local and regional issues that affect the health of Lake Erie and on improving recreational access for all people in the area.

A major water quality issue in central basin is the dead zone – an oxygen depleted area caused by dying algae. Other issues in the Central Basin/Cleveland include:

  • Tributary and near shore nutrient loads
  • Fracking
  • Lake Levels
  • Algae
  • Invasive species
  • Erosion
  • And other water quality issues.

To ensure the long term health of our lake, Lake Erie Waterkeeper is committed to working in close collaboration with existing sub-watershed groups, educators, civic organizations and others to promote water as a resource and to share information on what water means to the economy, community and homes.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper is a grassroots organization that succeeds through the involvement of its members. Join us, tell some friends, and get involved today!

Get Out on the Water

How can I get involved? There are dozens of ways you can join forces with Lake Erie Waterkeeper in its mission to monitor and improve the lake and its watershed:

  • Join us to stay up to date on the issues and ways you can make a difference.
  • Report pollution, algae and fish kills as soon as you see them
  • Sign or circulate a petition, or participate in a call-in action.
  • Participate in a river or beach cleanup, or start your own! Support your local watershed organization.
  • Help us to publicize our fundraisers and events. Sponsor a fundraiser or event.
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter – and share with your friends.
  • Keep an eye on news articles about Lake Erie and alert us of them so that we can share with our members and followers.
  • Share your own events, stories, research and photos.
  • Join or create a task force. Help us research and monitor in-stream pollution in the watershed. Help us catalog potential sources of pollution. Help us keep tabs on existing pollution permits. Help us establish a voluntary groundwater monitoring program.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local paper about key legislation, development, or other activities which impact Lake Erie and its watershed.
  • Volunteer to help us cover tables at events.
  • Make a donation. In addition to financial contributions, your time, expertise, recreational opportunities, and other in-kind donations are invaluable resources which can always be put to good use.
  • Help us recruit new members! If you are not currently a member, become a member today!

Annual Membership Options

  • $25—individual membership
  • $10—student membership
  • $40—family membership
  • $100—corporate, non-profit, or organization membership

With membership, you will be included in our volunteer database, receive newsletters and emails.


Want To Go Fishing in Lake Erie?



Background by John Hageman
Lake Erie supports a variety of fish that are generally characterized as either warm water or cool water fish types. While the warm water fish species may prefer water that is typically found in the Western Basin, the cool water fish species cannot tolerate warm water and only roam west in the winter and spring to spawn, if at all.

Native warm water sport fish species include walleyes, yellow perch, white bass and the black bass (smallmouth and largemouth), other sunfish such as rock bass, black and white crappies, bluegill and pumpkinseed and channel catfish and a few other bullhead species

Minnows include bluntnose, fathead and emerald, spottail, spotfin, golden, mimic and sand shiners, lake chubsucker and silver chub to name a few. Brook silversides provide additional food for predatory fish.

The most numerous bait fish species in the lake is the introduced eastern gizzard shad, widely believed to have entered through the Ohio-Erie canal. Common carp, goldfish, 9-spine stickleback and the European rudd are the result of deliberate stockings, pet releases and/or bait fish introductions, but the invasive round and tube-nose gobies are most likely the result of ballast water discharges. The alewife, white perch and sea lamprey all entered the Great Lakes through the canals that were built to allow ships to go around Niagara Falls. All three of these species have reached nuisance populations due to their high reproductive rates, lack of specific predators and favorable conditions for their survival.

Other numerous, but less targeted or appreciated species include the freshwater drum, bowfin, longnose gar and northern pike, Great Lakes muskellunge and variety of suckers such as quillback, white sucker, bigmouth buffalo and the golden and shorthead redhorse.

Cool water species of importance include the lake whitefish, lake trout, burbot, steelhead trout and rainbow smelt. The latter two were introduced as a game fish and/or food fish, while the former three’s populations expand and contract with the size of the “dead zone” . Annual stocking by the Ohio Division of Wildlife is necessary to maintain a viable population of steelhead trout due to low survival of their fry in Ohio’s warm and/or muddy streams entering the lake.

Cool water fish not of commercial or sportfishing significance but important prey include the trout perch and mottled sculpin, a species becoming uncommon due to competition from the invasive gobies.

Other species were stocked by government agencies, but failed to take such as Atlantic salmon, American shad, chain pickerel, white catfish and a few other species of Pacific salmon such as coho, Chinook and sockeye which persist as migrants coming from the upper lakes.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

Expect more to come, as the problem of ballast water introductions and the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds remain connected, which will allow more species to enter Lake Erie, including the silver, bigeye and black carp. Also, the European river ruffe, which was first seen in Lake Superior, is expected to expand into the lower lakes. While the above list is incomplete, it contains all of the species of sport, commercial, bait or other value. In all, over 100 species have been documented. Some are one-time or occasional sightings of exotic species such as salt water or tropical varieties, obviously released by trans-oceanic ships, worshipers involved in a religious ceremony or aquarists, but luckily didn’t thrive for any number of reasons.
Ohio Lake Erie Fishing Information
Michigan Lake Erie Fishing Information
Ontario Lake Erie Fishing Information
Great Lakes/Lake Erie Fish/Quotas Commission


Lake Erie Invasives

The Erie Canal was constructed in 1825 creating a species pathway from the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes. For awhile Niagara Falls acted as a barrier to keeping the invasives from getting into Lake Erie. In 1829 the Welland Canal was constructed and enlarged in 1919 to link Lake Ontario to the upper Great Lakes. Then in 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway opened creating an invasive pathway from around the globe.

Some invasive plants and animals entered the Great Lakes through the release of aquarium pets, fish aquaculture operations, bait bucket releases, intentional releases like the common carp that went awry.

Lake Erie Common Reed/Phragmites

Controlling Phragmites – the Invasive plant we see along the highways and shorelines of Lake Erie is challenging.   Phragmites looks like seagrass, but its root system is dense and snuffs out native cattails and reduces habitat for turtles, frogs and more.

Homeowners can control phragmites, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,  by using an integrated pest management approach which includes an initial herbicide treatment followed by mechanical removal (e.g., cutting, mowing) and annual maintenance. For large areas with dense stands of phragmites, prescribed burning used after herbicide treatment can provide additional control and ecological benefits over mechanical removal. Early detection is key to preventing large dense stands and is also more cost-efficient. Permits may be required for phragmites treatment.

Pennsylvania phragmites control information

A Study of Phragmites in the Western Lake Erie Marshes

Maumee River Watershed

The Maumee River is the largest Great Lakes watershed, draining all or part of 17 Ohio counties, two Michigan counties, and five Indiana counties into Maumee Bay and then to Lake Erie just east of Toledo, Ohio. The total watershed covers 8,316 square miles. The mainstem of the Maumee River is approximately 136 miles in total length with 25 miles in Indiana and 111 miles in Ohio. It begins in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers. The headwaters are the St. Joes, the St. Marys and the Maumee in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Maumee River has several major tributaries: the Tiffin, Auglaize, and Blanchard rivers. The highest elevations of 1,100 feet above mean sea level occur in the Michigan portion of the watershed. At the Ohio/Indiana border, the elevation of the Maumee River is 707 feet above mean sea level. At Maumee Bay the river is 573 feet above mean sea level, dropping an average of 1.3 feet per mile. The steepest section is between Waterville, Ohio and Maumee, Ohio at 5 feet per mile. Below Rossford, Ohio the Maumee is about the same elevation as Maumee Bay/Lake Erie. Daily average discharge ranges from a high of 94,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to a low of 32 cfs, and contributes about 50 percent of the total tributary discharge into Lake Erie, exclusive of the Detroit River.

A large part of the basin south of the river near Toledo is in the area formerly covered by the Great Black Swamp. The Great Black Swamp was covered with wet forests of hardwood, shallow lakes, and wet prairies. In 1859 a law providing for public ditches was passed. This law resulted in the entire Black Swamp being drained through extensive ditch systems, and more people began to settle there. By 1900, most of the Great Black Swamp was gone. It has been estimated that there are three miles of man-made ditches to every mile of natural stream.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

At present over 70% of the watershed is recognized as agricultural use. Drainage ditches make productive farming possible, but many do not provide fish or wildlife habitat. Ditches that lack buffer areas and are farmed up to the ditch bank provide a route for nutrients and sediment runoff to the river. Despite draining and channelizing streams, the Swamp is still there. It remains subject to flooding. Black Swamp streams could be good candidates for restoration and reestablishment of habitat by expanding floodplains and wetlands. Habitat areas on these headwater streams support the base of the food chain which ultimately feeds Lake Erie.
The Oak Openings Region is in the Maumee River Basin. The Oak Openings Region is a 130 square mile area supporting globally rare oak savanna and wet prairie habitats. It is home to more rare species of plants and animals than any other area of Ohio. Its trees, plants, sandy soils, wet prairies, and floodplains benefit the region by acting as natural filters for our air and water. It is widely agreed from government agencies to citizen groups that the Oak Openings Region with its wet prairies and savannas, together with the connecting corridors along the Maumee River, Swan Creek, and Ottawa River should be given the priority for preservation. By maintaining the natural character of these areas, they will continue to benefit humans and wildlife long into the future.
In July 1974 the Maumee River was designated an Ohio State Scenic River from the Ohio/Indiana state line to Defiance, Ohio (43 river miles) and a State Recreational River from that point downstream to the Maumee/Perrysburg Bridge (53 river miles). These two designated areas have special restrictions on development and permitted discharges.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

In 1985 the International Joint Commission designated the lower Maumee River as an Area Of Concern (AOC).  Heavy metals and organic chemical sediment contamination were a major reason along with a noted concern that the Maumee River contributes the largest tributary load of suspended sediments and phosphorus into Lake Erie.  In 1987 the Maumee Remedial Action Plan (Maumee RAP) was formed under the management of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) with ex-officio leadership provided by a full-time Ohio EPA coordinator.  It has grown and changed over the years, but has always been a public-private partnership working to delist the Maumee as an  AOC.

Initially, only the lower 22.8 miles of the Maumee River to Maumee Bay/Lake Erie where included in the AOC.  This area included direct drainage into the waters that are within Lucas, and Wood counties.  The AOC was subsequently expanded to hwat riover(s) in Ottawa county  farther east along the lake but not farther upstream along the Maumee.  Therefore, the majority of the river and its contributing watershed are are not included in the MaumeeRAP because it is outside of the AOC.

In 1815 a writing about the Maumee River describes the fish as “so numerous are they at this place that a spear may be thrown at random, and will rarely miss killing one! …   Some days there were not less than 1,000 taken by hook from Swan Creek (in downtown Toledo), and the shoals of the bay swarmed with ducks, and geese. The woods were filled with deer, elk and wild turkeys.”  While that is not true today, the Maumee River is still a treat to the eyes in many areas.  Whether driving along the river, canoeing on it or walking the old towpath trails one can sometimes travel for miles without significant signs of civilization.  Near the Maumee/Perrysburg bridge only 5 to 10 miles from downtown Toledo, the river is still several hundred yards wide but a limestone  ledge renders it too shallow for power boats for most of the year.  These same shallows are the sight of Spring spawning runs of Walleye and White Bass that draw thousands of anglers from all around the region.  Other signs of river health include the return of Bald Eagles, Great Blue Heron, White Heron, Egrets, Osprey and even an occasional migratory Whistling Swan.Currently the Maumee River watershed is targeted for the massive amounts of sediments – over 50% of Lake Erie’s sediment load – that flow into Lake Erie.  In addition the Maumee watershed provides over 40% of the phosphorous load to Lake Erie.  which Heidelberg University states is predominately from agriculture(which includes manure)


Ports and Shipping

The lake has been a shipping highway for maritime vessels for centuries. Ships headed eastwards use the Welland Canal and a series of eight locks descending 326 feet to Lake Ontario. The ship traffic in Lake Erie is among the highest in the Great Lakes.

Lake Erie ports: Monroe, Toledo, Kellys Island, Sandusky, Huron, Lorain, Cleveland, Fairport Harbor, Ashtabula, Conneaut, Erie.

Click here for more information about Lake Erie and Great Lakes shipping.


Lake Erie Rivers

The Great Lakes largest watershed is the Maumee with over 4 million acres. Lake Erie rivers direct tributaries: Huron(Michigan), Raisin, Maumee Bay/River, Toussaint, Portage, Sandusky Bay/River, Huron(Ohio), Black, Cuyahoga, Grand, Ashtabula/Chagrin, Conneaut.

The Maumee has sub-watersheds: St. Joseph and St.Mary’s(Indiana)

12 miles long beginning in Elyria draining 174 square miles.

43.5 miles long beginning in Crawford County Pennsylvania flowing into Lake Erie near Albion draining an area of 152 square miles.

85 miles with watershed 100 miles long flow beginning in Hambden, Ohio – river in East and West Branch draining 809 square miles.

102.7 miles long beginning in Geauga County flowing into Lake Erie at Fairport Harbor draining an area of 712 square miles.

130 miles long beginning in northern Oakland County  flowing into Lake Erie in Monroe County draining an area of 908 square miles.

15 miles long beginning east of Shiloh flowing into Lake Erie at Huron, Ohio draining an area of 406 square miles.

15 miles long beginning in southeast Michigan – if Ten Mile Creek is included it is 48 miles long flowing  into Lake Erie at Port Clinton, Ohio draining an area of ? square miles.

41.5 miles long beginning in southeast Michigan – if Ten Mile Creek is included it is 48 miles long flowing  into Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio draining an area of 626 square miles.

139 miles long beginning in Rollin Twp. flowing  into Lake Erie at Monroe, Michigan draining an area of 1,072 square miles.

92 miles long beginning in between Cleveland and North Olmsread Cuyahoga County draining an area of 142 square miles.

133 miles long beginning in Leesville at Crawford County  flowing into Lake Erie from Sandusky Bay draining an area of 1,420 square miles.

18.5 miles long beginning in London Township  flowing into Lake Erie at Sterling State Park.

66.9 miles long beginning in Bailey Lakes  flowing into Lake Erie at Vermillion draining an area of  268 square miles

Please Note: Additions? –

Water Quantity

Lake Erie Water Volumes / Levels / Quantities

Lake Erie water levels change on short-term (daily and seasonally) and on long-term scales (over days, months, years and decades). The longer-term levels are determined by changes in the net supply of water received from the watershed and the upper Great Lakes on a seasonal and annual basis. Storm surges and seiche events (long waves that will move back and forth as they reflect off the opposite ends of the basin) cause changes on a daily or weekly basis (Lee et al. 1996). Historically, the natural water level of the lake has varied over a range of about 2 meters (6 feet) (Lenters 2001; Quinn 2002; Lofgren et al. 2002), and the lake level has tended to cycle through highs and lows over 30-year periods (Figure 1). High-water periods were recorded in Lake Erie in the 1950s and 1980s-1990s, while low-water periods have occurred in the 1930s and 1960s.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

Changing water levels and the resulting shifts in the location of the shoreline and the littoral zone have an important impact on the structure, function, and productivity in aquatic systems (Chubb and Liston 1985). Given the relatively flat topography associated with Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and associated connecting channels, large expanses of shoreline areas typically become inundated and/or exposed when the lake level changes.

Changes in surface water, water exchange, and the ability of fish to move between coastal wetlands, embayments, and the open lake are directly related to the size, timing, duration, frequency, and rate of change of these fluctuating water levels (S.D. Mackey, pers. Comm.). One factor that may have an impact on long-term changes of water levels in Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and connecting channels is global climate change. Most Global Circulation Models predict that reductions in precipitation, an increase in evaporation, and less ice cover will lead to lower Lake Erie water levels (Lofgren et al. 2002).

Additional Information


St. Clair River

St. Clair River Army Corps

St Clair article

Water Quality

Lake Erie Water Quality

Lake Erie had the burning Cuyahoga tributary; it was the brunt of jokes about its depredated condition. Lake Erie was known as the lake that was dying in the 1970’s. In truth, Lake Erie never ‘died’ but it is true that sport fish populations were very low, there was algae in the lake, and in general the world’s 12th largest lakes waters were in big trouble.

There was a massive effort to bring Lake Erie back to a healthy state. The good news is that because Lake Erie is so shallow and turns over every 2.6 years, that it can get healthy pretty fast if the problem sources are reduced/eliminated. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada set phosphorous limits for Lake Erie at .1mg/liter and mercury limits at .01mg/liter. At the time all sources of nutrients, especially phosphorous were targeted for reductions. The amount of phosphorous coming into Lake Erie was halved from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. The major sources of phosphorous reductions were: phosphorous outputs at wastewater plants; eliminating phosphorous from laundry detergent; no-till farming practices.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

Because of the phosphorous reductions grew to become the Walleye Capital of the World and tourists once again flocked to Lake Erie.  Lake Erie became the greatest ecosystem recovery in the world.

Then from about 2003 on noticeable algae blooms were once again in the lake.  Heidleberg’s water quality lab showed that dissolved reactive phosphorous was steadily increasing since 1995.

Water quality reports from the states bordering Lake Erie generally indicate improvement in Lake Erie’s tributaries.  Strangely, there is no continuing water quality monitoring in Lake Erie itself.  Funding for monitoring in Lake Erie stopped just before the turn of the century.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association

The state required Clean Water Act reports deal with a complex set of criteria and evaluations for Lake Erie tributaries and is reported statewide. This means that for instance, Ohio drains both to the Ohio River and Lake Erie, but the changes in the two receiving glasses of water are not compared to the water quality analysis in the tributaries.

In short, Lake Erie water quality is analyzed by researchers on a subject by subject basis but not lakewide, and there is no continuous monitoring, or often even sampling at the outfalls of the tributaries to Lake Erie.

Here are some Lake Erie Water Quality studies:

Lake Erie Water Quality Getting Worse, USGS Study 1996-1998

Weather Changes

Coming Soon

Western Basin

Lake Erie Western Basin Facts

The Western Basin of Lake Erie is the shallow flat basin that comprises the western third of the lake. Even with average depths of less than 25’this part of the lake contains world-famous walleye fishing grounds with numerous charter fishing boats operating out of the U.S. states of Michigan and Ohio and the Canadian province of Ontario. The western basin, comprising about one-fifth of the lake, is very shallow with an average depth of 7.4 meters (24 feet) and a maximum depth of 19 meters (62 feet).  Western Lake Erie has 32% of Lake Erie’s shoreline, 13% of the Lake Erie area and 5% of Lake Erie’s volume.  Western Lake Erie is Lake Erie’s primary spawning waters..

The Western Basin of Lake Erie turns over every 30 – 45 days compared to 2.6 years on average for all of Lake Erie. This means that if nutrient sources are reduced, Lake Erie algae should be reduced quickly.

The Detroit River is not considered a tributary, yet it provides over 80% of the water to Lake Erie. Below are the tributaries to western Lake Erie. The Toussaint in a 36-mile long stream that is near the Davis Besse power stations.(attached)

130 miles long beginning in northern Oakland County flowing into Lake Erie in Monroe County draining an area of 908 square miles.

15 miles long beginning east of Shiloh flowing into Lake Erie at Huron, Ohio draining an area of 406 square miles.

15 miles long beginning in southeast Michigan – if Ten Mile Creek is included it is 48 miles long flowing into Lake Erie at Port Clinton, Ohio draining an area of ? square miles.

41.5 miles long beginning in southeast Michigan – if Ten Mile Creek is included it is 48 miles long flowing into Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio draining an area of 626 square miles. 

139 miles long beginning in Rollin Twp. flowing into Lake Erie at Monroe, Michigan draining an area of 1,072 square miles.

133 miles long beginning in Leesville at Crawford County flowing into Lake Erie from Sandusky Bay draining an area of 1,420 square miles. 

18.5 miles long beginning in London Township flowing into Lake Erie at Sterling State Park.

66.9 miles long beginning in Bailey Lakes flowing into Lake Erie at Vermillion draining an area of 268 square miles

Please Note: Additions? –

Over 40% each of the phosphorous coming into western Lake Erie(all of Lake Erie) comes from the Maumee and Detroit Rivers.   Nutrients come to the Western basin in the sediments, from agriculture, manure, wastewater(especially the Detroit wastewater plant), open lake dumping, stormwater, septic systems, and lawn fertilizer.

Western Lake Erie has five power plants that use an estimated 3 billion gallons of water per day and heat the water about 10 degrees warmer than the intake water.    Three of the plants are coal-fired, and two are nuclear with a third, Fermi 3,  in the permitting process.  Detroit Edison, coal-fired Monroe plant is the largest if the plants are generating 3300 MW of power.   The Whiting plant in Erie, Michigan has announced that it will close in the next several years.  The plant intake is in the Erie Marsh and islands area with huge eco attributes.  Three of the four units at Bayshore are expected to close by September of 2012.  Bayshore historically is the Great Lakes largest fish killer with historic fish kills of 55 million juvenile fish caught against the screens and 1.2 billion going through the screens each year.