About Lake Erie / Lake Erie Info Page
Lake Erie is the eleventh largest lake in the world (by surface area), and the fourth largest of the
Great Lakes in surface area and the smallest by volume.
Ninety-five percent of Lake Erie’s total inflow of water comes via the Detroit River water from all the “upper lakes” — Superior, Michigan, and Huron — the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and numerous tributaries. The rest comes from precipitation.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and is especially vulnerable to fluctuating water levels.
Wind setups (wind pushing the water from one end of the lake toward the other), usually from west to east, have produced large short-term differences in water levels at the eastern and western ends of the lake, the record is more than 16 ft (4.88 m).
The water provided by Lake Erie for waterborne commerce, navigation, manufacturing, and power production has led to intensive industrial development along its shore, but the basin’s moderate temperatures have also encouraged recreation and agriculture.
Lake Erie is the warmest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes, and the Lake Erie walleye fishery is widely considered the best in the world.
Point Pelee National Park in Lake Erie is the southernmost point on Canada’s mainland.
Lenght: 241 miles / 388 km
Breadth: 57 miles / 92 km
Average Depth: 62 ft. / 19 m.
Maximum Depth: 210 ft. / 64 m.
Volume: 116 cubic miles / 484 cubic km.
Water Surface Area: 9,910 sq. miles / 25,700 sq. km.
Total Drainage Basin Area: 30,140 sq. miles / 78,000 sq. km.
Shoreline Lenghts (including islands): 871 miles / 1,402 km.
Elevation: 569 ft. / 173 m.
Outlet: Niagara River and Welland Canal
Retention / Preplacement time: 2.6 years (shortest of the Great Lakes)
Name: The greater part of its southern shore was at one time occupied by a nation known to the Iroquois League as the “Erielhonan,” or the “long-tails,” a tribe of Indians from which the lake derived its name. This name is always mentioned by the early French writers as meaning “cat”; Lac du Chat means “Lake of the Cat.” Many attribute this reference to the wildcat or panther.
Drainage Basin Area By State / Province:
Indiana: 1300 sq mi; 3300 sq km
Michigan: 5800 sq mi; 15,100 sq km
New York: 1600 sq mi; 4200 sq km
Ohio: 11,700 sq mi; 30,400 sq km
Ontario: 8800 sq mi; 22,800 sq km
Pennsylvania: 500 sq mi; 1400 sq km
References: Great Lakes Atlas, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995
More Lake Erie Facts by ODNR
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 boosts 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.
- 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.
- Lake Erie is the twelfth largest lake in the world (in the 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 sports 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 evaporates 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).
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.
It is estimated that over eight billion gallons of sewage was 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 has reduced the outfalls.