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The importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway is vitally important to the U.S. and Canada. It links the Atlantic Ocean to the North American interior. It’s a source of power for both countries. It enables cities along the seaway to transport goods from the interior of the U.S. and Canada. Some problems also exist that need to be addressed continuously.

Navy Pier and the Chicago Harbor
Photo by Elaine C. Shigley

Because the St. Lawrence Seaway exists, there is a continuous, interior waterway system. It flows to/from the Atlantic Ocean through all the Great Lakes, the Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Illinois River, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. This system serves the populations of every city along its route.

The seaway is a source of hydroelectric facilities. The seaway project started in 1954 included developing and integrating these facilities. The Power Authority of the State of New York and the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario in Canada operate and manage them.

The commercial and economic importance of the seaway cannot be overstated. Vital cargoes of iron ore, wheat and coal are transported daily. The busy lake ports of Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth and Toronto store goods sent to them on barges. These goods are in turn shipped on ocean-going vessels. The transfer from barge to ship is only done once, which is a great saving of time and money.

Two problems with the seaway need to be addressed. They are winter ice formation and invasive species. Management agencies use ice-breakers and air pumps throughout the seaway to solve the first problem. The problem of invasive species happens when the invasive species attach themselves to the ocean-going ships or slip unnoticed through the seaway locks. Often these species have no biological enemies to control their numbers, and they damage the wildlife in lakes and rivers along the seaway.

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