Tag: lake champlain

How many Great Lakes are there?

Traditionally, we have counted five Great Lakes. For decades, school children have been reminded of them via an acronym, HOMES, standing for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

Some, however, argue that there are at least six Great Lakes. One would be Lake St. Clair, at the center of the watershed. Without this lake, freighters would be unable to carry shipments of goods and commodities from the upper Great Lakes to the lower, and vice versa. Lake St. Clair is an essential part of the Great Lakes system and economy.

But Lake St. Clair is a much smaller lake than any of the HOMES. The smallest of the five traditional Great Lakes, Erie, has a volume of 116 cubic miles The volume of the largest, Superior, is 2,900 cubic miles. The volume of Lake St. Clair, by contrast, is one to two cubic miles, depending on which information source is consulted.

It could be argued that Ontario’s Lake Nipigon is the sixth Great Lake. The largest lake entirely within Ontario, Nipigon is upstream of Lake Superior and the 28th largest lake in the world by surface area. Its volume is 59 cubic miles.

Another contender for the title of the sixth Great Lake was Lake Champlain. Located on the border of New York State, Vermont, and Quebec, Lake Champlain sends its water northward, to the St. Lawrence River, which is also where water from the five traditional Great Lakes flows. It is more substantial than Lake St. Clair, with a volume of a little more than six cubic miles.

In 1998, Congress and the President declared Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake through a new federal law. The purpose was to make federal money available to institutions around Lake Champlain under the Sea Grant program. But the outcry from the traditional Great Lakes States led Congress to rescind the declaration of Lake Champlain as a Great Lake just 18 days later.

Some have suggested that groundwater is the sixth Great Lake. The volume of groundwater beneath the U.S. side of the Great Lakes is equal to the volume of Lake Huron, but technically, groundwater is not a lake.

It might be more accurate to say there are four Great Lakes. Michigan and Huron are actually one lake with two lobes, sharing a water level. If Huron-Michigan is considered one lake, it is the largest lake by surface area in the world.

But most of us will probably continue thinking of the Great Lakes as the Fab Five – or HOMES.