Facts

Lake Erie Description by ODNR

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Lake Erie is the incubator for the Great Lakes – the canary in the coal mine lake.  Invasive species like the quagga/zebra mussels prospered first in the shallow water in the western basin of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.  The recent VHS outbreak of so called fish flu began in Maumee Bay in the western basin.  Lake Erie was said to have died in the 1970’s highlighted by the Cuyahoga River burning and has since been the ‘comeback lake’.

Lake Erie is an amazing lake and there is a tale to be told by its rivers too.  Lake Erie is the shallowest of all the Great Lakes and has more consumable fish than all the other Great Lakes combined.  Lake Erie’s great fishery supports 10,000 jobs per year and boost the economies by over $1 billion annually.  Lake Erie is the Walleye Capital of the World – people come from all over the world to fish these waters.

Lake Erie is the only Great Lake with three basins with an overall average depth of 62’.  The western basin average depth is only 24’ and is an estuary.  The Central basin average depth is 60’.  Fishing is best in the Central basin in mid summer when the walleye migrate from the western basin.  The eastern basin water with an average depth of 80’ acts more like the other Great Lakes.

Geological

  • The Great Lakes were gouged out by glacial ice between 1 million and 12,600 years ago.
  • Lake Erie was one of the first Great Lakes to be uncovered during the last retreat of the glacial ice.
  • Several precursors to the modern Lake Erie have been identified, some of which lasted long enough to leave behind well-developed beaches many miles from the lake’s current position.
  • The oldest rocks from which the Lake Erie basin was carved are about 400 million years old and formed in a tropical ocean reef environment.
  • Lake Erie and its shoreline are a major source of many minerals. The largest sandstone quarry in the world is located in Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio. Salt mines in Cuyahoga and Lake Counties extend out under Lake Erie and are an important source of revenue to the State. Sand, gypsum, and limestone used for construction purposes are found in abundance. Large reserves of natural gas—over 3 trillion cubic feet—are located under Lake Erie.

Physical

  • Lake Erie is the twelfth largest lake in the world (in area), and its border includes four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan) and one Canadian Province (Ontario).
  • Lake Erie is the southernmost, shallowest, warmest, and most biologically productive of the five Great Lakes. These are part of the reason it is the largest Great Lakes sport fishery.
  • Lake Erie has three basins: the western basin includes the islands area; the central basin extends from the islands to about Erie, Pennsylvania, and Long Point, Canada; and the eastern basin extends from Erie, Pennsylvania to the east end of the lake.
  • Lake Erie is about 241 miles (388 km) long, about 57 miles (92 km) wide at its widest, and has about 871 miles (1,402 km) of shoreline. The length of Ohio’s shoreline is about 312 miles (502 km).
  • The maximum depth is 210 feet (64 m) and occurs in the eastern basin. Average depths in the basins are: western, 24 feet (7.3 m); central, 60 feet (18.3 m); and eastern, 80 feet (24.4 m).
  • The water surface area is 9,910 square miles (25,667 sq. km) and the volume is 116 cubic miles (483 cu. km).
  • 22,720 square miles (58,845 sq. km) of land drain directly into Lake Erie; however, if the drainage areas of the upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, and Huron) are included, the total drainage area of Lake Erie is 263,650 square miles (682,850 sq. km).
  • Lake Erie has a retention/replacement time of 2.6 years, which is the shortest of the Great Lakes.
  • Water flow from the Detroit River makes up 80 to 90 percent of the flow into the lake.
  • The outlet for Lake Erie is the Niagara River; consequently, it is Lake Erie that feeds water to Niagara Falls.
  • Basin rainfall is about 35 inches per year.
  • About 34 to 36 inches of water evaporate from the lake surface per year.
  • Elevation of the Low Water Datum (chart “0″) is 569.2 feet (173.5 m) above Father Point, Quebec. Average water elevation is about 571 feet (174 m) above the same point. Because it is so shallow, Erie is the only Great Lake that is entirely above sea level (the bottom of the other Great Lakes extend below sea level).

Drinking Water

Lake Erie provides drinking water to over 11 million people.

According to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission‘s report of 1998, there are 31 lake-fed water treatment plants on Ohio’s North Coast, and none of these plants has measured contaminants that exceed drinking water standards.

 Wastewater

It is estimated that over eight billion gallons of sewage were dumped into Lake Erie & its waterways in the Lake Erie Basin in 2004(PIRG) The report estimates that this is the equivalent of 2 billion toilet flushes into the drinking water source for 11 million people. 

Untreated sewage contains health threatening bacteria, viruses and parasites such as E. coli, Salmonella and Hepatitis A. Exposure to these pathogens through ingestion or contact via the eyes, ears or skin can cause a host of illnesses including but not limited to gastrointestinal illnesses, Infectious Hepatitis, damage to the liver, kidneys and spleen and even death. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to exposure to the bacteria.   Nutrients from sewage are also a likely contributor to the dead zone in Lake Erie.

Ohio PIRG’s report also reveals that in 2004 the monitored beaches along the Lake Erie shoreline failed to meet criteria for primary-contact recreation, including swimming on 16% of the assessed days. Using E. Coli as the indicator for swimmable beaches, health advisories or warnings were issued for 271 days in 2004. This was an increase from the 255 beach advisory days in 2003 and the 227 beach advisory days in 2002.

Ohio PIRG’s report analyzes eleven out of the 53 CSO communities in the Lake Erie Watershed Basin, and reveals that these eleven communities discharged over eight billion gallons of untreated sewage to Lake Erie and waterways that feed into Lake Erie, in 2004 alone. Combined sewer systems attempt to treat rainwater and sewage. During moderate to heavy rainfall the combined systems take in more wastewater than the treatment plants can handle. When this occurs sewage either gets backed up, or is diverted away from the plant directly into a local waterway.

Of the eleven communities surveyed in the report, The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), Toledo and Akron were the biggest offenders dumping over seven billion gallons of sewage into Lake Erie and waterways that feed into the lake such as the Cuyahoga and Maumee rivers (see Table 1 on page 10 of the report for the complete list of communities surveyed).  Since this report Toledo has invested in upgrades, under court order, that have reduced the outfalls.