Highway H2O


Are you looking for a cause to champion which has not already been taken by Leonardo di Caprio or Cameron Diaz? Then check out Highway H20 or HwyH2O as the St. Lawrence Seaway shall henceforth be known, if the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation has its way. Just when you thought branding couldn't go any farther...US America/Canada's greatest freshwater resource is the subject of a slick marketing campaign to increase ship traffic on the waterway. Even if you don't have the celebrity power, this site is worth checking out: it is full of interesting facts and thought provoking observations. For instance, why are 125 truckloads of Toronto's garbage being sent to Detroit every day?

The campaign is seeking to draw public attention to the environmental and social benefits of shipping over rail and truck transport. The site references a study (conducted by the Great Lakes Commission)showing that transport by ship requires ten times less energy than transport by truck, and less than half the energy of rail. Emissions are lower and the safety record is better both in accidents per unit and fatalities. It is not clear from the site (but the full study is available on request) whether the calculations related to safety or emissions also assessed the pollution statistics, addressing the fact that pollution risk is concordantly greater the larger the vessel.

Pointing to the success of inland waterways in Europe in rivalling the growth of road transport in the 1990s, and to the 50% unused capacity of the waterway, the Management Corporation is targetting to increase the "shortsea shipping" as an alternative to other modes of transport. The Seaway faces a challenge competing with land based modes of transportation, given that it closes during the icy season (the route was open 281 days in 2004). But according to an article in Lake Superior Magazine, new icebreakers are being developed which will lift the ice and pile it on top of the floe rather than forcing it down and away from the ship, which will reduce damage to shorelines from icebreaker traffic.

Of course, the claims of eco-friendliness of water transport must be carefully considered against the risks of pollution of this important eco-system and freshwater source. Claims at "HwyH2O.com" that the waterway is cost effective since the lakes don't get potholes or bent rails are a classic mistake in underestimating the hidden costs in an eco-analysis and do not reflect well on what otherwise appears to be an organization which takes very seriously its dual mission: to use the Lakes' incredible water "highway" while maintaining the natural beauty and value of these great inland seas. [by ©C. Lepisto, 2005]