CLAYTON — Environmental advocacy group Save the River has called for intermittent shutdowns of shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway to help provide relief for shoreline residents from widespread flooding.
Executive Director John M. Peach sent a letter on Wednesday to the International Joint Commission, which regulates shared uses of binational waterways between the U.S. and Canada, seeking support in his call for temporary, routine shutdowns so outflows from Lake Ontario could rise and help decrease water levels faster.
The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which reports to the commission, manages outflows from the lake through the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario. Mr. Peach wrote that he hoped by instituting a program requiring “several days open and several days closed” for shipping, the river board could raise outflows beyond the record-high 10,400 cubic meters per second to as high as 11,500 cubic meters per second, the physical capacity for outflows through the dam. A similar program was instituted in 1993, he wrote.
“I think it would send a real positive message to (shoreline) people,” Mr. Peach said. “Some of the frustration they’re feeling, I think, meeds to be delivered to shipping, to the Seaway.”
The elevation of the lake, which typically correlates with the elevation of the upper St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands, has declined in small increments from 248.98 feet on July 1 to 248.62 feet Tuesday, or by 4.3 inches.
The river board considered whether to raise outflows to the maximum capacity of 11,500 cubic meters per second, enough water to fill almost 37,975 average-sized bathtubs per second, earlier this month. It decided, however, to keep outflows close to 10,400 cubic meters per second, or enough water to fill 34,342 bathtubs per second, which it has maintained for about a month.
Paul Allen, the commission’s Canadian manager of policy, programs and communications, said the board manages outflows to address all interests along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as best as possible, and provides the commission weekly updates.
“The commission itself is not going to dictate the closure of the Seaway,” he said, “because the commission (and river board) only has the responsibility to regulate outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam.”
The St. Lawrence Seaway Development and Management corporations, entities that operate the Seaway on the U.S. and Canadian sides, respectively, previously issued speed and movement protocols last month in response to high outflows through the dam.
Raising outflows to maximum capacity would require a shutdown of shipping on the Seaway from Cape Vincent to St. Lambert and cause an estimated daily loss of $50 million in shipping, or $1.4 billion loss overall, according to the board.
Other consequences of increasing outflows include additional flooding near Montreal and adverse effects for downstream property owners, recreational boaters and wildlife.
Mr. Peach said he questioned where the projected daily loss of $50 million from a shutdown of shipping derived from, and wondered how much in shoreline businesses in the north country and southern Ontario lost in finances due to the high waters.
“The Seaway corporations are extremely conscious of the gravity of the situation created by the high water levels on Lake Ontario,” the development corporation wrote in a background statement. “We will continue to work closely with the (river) board and the International Joint Commission to determine the most appropriate and effective approach to addressing the current high water levels.”
Excessive precipitation across the Great Lakes Basin and high outflow from Lake Erie, which also experienced record-breaking water levels, were key factors in Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River experiencing unprecedented water levels.
The effects were compounded by a heavy snow pack along the Ottawa River basin melting a little later than usual and major rains throughout the basin in late April and into May, which led to record flows from the river into the lower St. Lawrence River. This excess water caused Lake St. Louis, located where the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers meet, to exceed flood stage, flooding large areas near Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec. In order to mitigate the effects of this flooding, the river board reduced outflows, backing water up on Lake Ontario.