Lake outflows ‘unprecedented’

Due to increased outflows in Massena mandated by the IJC, the water level at the confluence of Sucker Brook and the St. Lawrence River in Waddington has dropped dramatically. On Tuesday, an old road bed and the foundations from buildings that were part of a former milk factory are exposed by the lower water levels. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Regulators of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River levels say the end of the Seaway shipping season and a spate of mild temperatures has enabled them to achieve “unprecedented” outflows through the swollen system in recent days.

The International Joint Commission said in a statement Wednesday that outflows through the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario, have reached up to 10,700-cubic-meters-per-second at times over the past few days, higher than the record sustained levels of 10,400-cubic-meters-per-second reached this past summer as both the lake and river spilled over their banks.

The difference is that the flows within the past week have not been sustained at record levels, but are still “higher than has ever been released in winter for several days,” the IJC said.

According to outflow data compiled by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Board, which implements the IJC’s regulation plan, outflows averaged 10,442-cubic-meters-per-second in the six-day period between Jan. 1 and Monday, which the IJC termed “unprecedented” for this time of year. The period follows the closing of the Seaway shipping season, which ended Dec. 31.

Typically this time of year, outflows are reduced to assist with ice formation to help reduce the risk of ice jams on the St. Lawrence River. The river board had reduced outflows Dec. 21 to as low as 7,790-cubic-meters-per-second after air temperatures dropped well below freezing, but have since ramped outflows back up after temperatures consistently hovered near or climbed above freezing.

“These very high outflows are only possible under the current conditions and may only continue during a relatively short window before temperatures fall and ice formation resumes,” the IJC statement said.

The IJC cautions that may happen as soon as today, as the National Weather Service in Buffalo has indicated temperatures will fall into the single digits for most of the north country overnight. However, the service indicates temperatures will rebound by Friday and remain above normal through Tuesday.

The IJC says that if mild weather and ice conditions allow, “outflows will be increased again as much and as soon as possible.”

With all that said, there may not be a noticeable impact on lake levels even with the higher than usual outflows. The lake’s level is still more than a foot above its long-term average for this time of year and this is also the time of year when it usually begins its seasonal climb. Extremely high inflows from Lake Erie and any precipitation that falls across the Lake Ontario basin will factor into the overall impact on the lake’s level.

The river board also has to consider other factors when determining outflows, such as the potential impacts on Lake St. Lawrence above the dam and Lake St. Louis below it. Increasing outflows too quickly tends to drain Lake St. Lawrence, which is the source of several municipal water supplies, and high outflows can cause Lake St. Lawrence’s levels to rise dramatically, raising the risk of shoreline flooding.

With these factors in mind, the IJC says the river board “will continue to set outflows as high as possible based on changing conditions throughout the basin” in an attempt to reduce the impact of expected high water levels this year.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(3) comments


We keep thinking in terms of our section of the river...High Water Article last week in Detroit... "USACE - The mean levels for lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, St. Clair and Ontario were about a foot higher than the same month in 2018, according to the monthly bulletin from the Army Corps' Detroit office." "The levels findings the corps released this week come after the Great Lakes Basin saw its wettest 60-month period ending Aug. 31 in 120 years of record-keeping, according to corps records."....

That was the report Friday from the International Lake Superior Board of Control that warned lakeshore residents to “prepare for potentially severe coastal impacts, especially during periods of strong winds and high waves.” "Lake Superior is a whopping 13 inches above its normal Jan. 1 water level and a full 4 inches above the Jan. 1, 2019 level one year ago."..........

The high water isn't coming from here... it's the mid-west and Great Lakes title basin.. Lake Superior alone is larger than all the rest of the Great Lakes's the world's largest freshwater lake.. and we think a 10% increase in outflow is going to affect that? So lets stop shipping, and flood Montreal, that'll fix it.. OMG..

River Rat 1

Last year for the 1st week of January, the level was 244.8 +/-. This year, for the 1st week of January, the level is 245.4 +/-. So we're basically 7 inches higher now than a year ago. You better open the faucet!!!!!


Looks like a little too late. Never like this with the old 1958DD plan ever!!!!!!!!!!

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