WATERTOWN — The U.S. has sent $1.5 million to experts evaluating whether to alter a water level management plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The International Joint Commission announced Monday that it received $1.5 million that, in tandem with another $1.5 million from Canada, will fund an expedited review of Plan 2014 from its subcommittee, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee (GLAM).
The plan, adopted by the commission in 2016, established the latest regulatory guidance for how to manage outflows from Lake Ontario through the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario.
The waters of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River reached new heights last year, rising in the wake of excessive precipitation and historic amounts of water flowing in from the upper Great Lakes. Shoreline communities experienced widespread inundation as a result of high waters last year and in 2017 across the Great Lakes basin.
In an effort to improve water level management during extreme weather, the GLAM committee will perform an 18- to 24-month review of Plan 2014 and determine whether any changes are needed, according to the commission.
The committee will gather scientific data and other pertinent information to aid outflow managers during situations like last year and in 2017. Work toward the expedited review kicked off last year, including the committee asking landowners and businesses owners via an online questionnaire about how the high waters affected them.
“The IJC is committed to making this an open and transparent review and is in the process of creating a special advisory group to support the GLAM Committee through this process,” wrote Jane Corwin, U.S. co-chair of the commission, in a prepared statement. “This advisory group will be made up of people representing a wide range of interests throughout the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system.”
U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., announced in December that the funds for the study would be allocated in a bipartisan omnibus 2020 spending package. Sen. Gillibrand urged for a “complete review” and strategies to help prevent future flooding, while Sen. Schumer pushed for a “complete overhaul” of Plan 2014.
U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, issued a statement Tuesday stressing the importance of the expedited review for waterfront communities.
“I have been a consistent advocate for a balanced approach addressing the ongoing water level issues in our region and for the review of modifications and updates to Plan 2014, and I have continued to work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the IJC has the necessary funding to start this process,” she wrote in a prepared statement.
Critics of Plan 2014 have blamed it for the widespread flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River last year and in 2017. The commission, U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and at least a few scientists have pegged the high waters on record amounts of precipitation and high outflows from the other Great Lakes.
The International Lake-Ontario St. Lawrence River Board manages outflows from the dam under the supervision of the commission. It typically follows the guidance established in Plan 2014, but has deviated from the plan since this past May.