Given the rationale for his planned lawsuit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo doesn’t appear to have listed all the scapegoats responsible for the damage caused by flooding this year along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Should he name Midwestern states like Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin as defendants for allowing their elevated portions of the Great Lakes to encroach upon New York waterways? Is he going to go after Montreal for not being willing to endure even more flooding than it already has just to satisfy property owners on our local shorelines?
What about representatives of the shipping industry? How dare they refuse to bring a complete halt to all commercial activity so that outflows can be increased to hazardous rates.
We certainly don’t want Mr. Cuomo to overlook any uncooperative parties in his quest to remedy the harm resulting from unprecedented high-water levels. Never mind that he’s completely ignoring the real culprit in this story. He’s demanding monetary justice from those with much deeper pockets than Mother Nature.
The governor announced Wednesday that he directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to file a lawsuit against the International Joint Commission for what he claims to be “its mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels that caused catastrophic damage to shoreline communities,” according to a news release issued by his office.
“The facts of the matter are plain: The IJC’s function is to manage the Lake Ontario water levels, and they failed — period. They have been wholly unresponsive and have taken no action to make the situation better,” Mr. Cuomo said in the news release. “We will not shoulder the burden of the destruction that is a direct result of the IJC’s gross mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels, and the IJC needs to compensate New York for the severe damage to the homes and businesses along the shoreline. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.”
Created by the Water Boundary Treaty of 1909, the IJC advises Canada and the United States on water-usage regulations, approves project applications and resolves disputes between international parties. The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which reports to the IJC, oversees outflows from the lake through the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario.
The IJC implemented Plan 2014 in January 2017 to return Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to more natural flows and restore wetlands and wildlife populations. It replaces previous policies that for decades severely hurt the ecosystem of regional waterways.
Shamelessly pandering to misguided property owners, Mr. Cuomo and other public officials have blamed Plan 2014 for the flooding that occurred in both 2017 and this year. They’ve chosen to discard the meteorological conditions leading to these high water levels.
While it made a passing reference to “unforeseen weather events,” Mr. Cuomo’s lengthy news release (about 1,900 words) failed to make any mention of the true source of this crisis: rainfall. A story published Thursday by the Watertown Daily Times nicely summarized the issue:
“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 this year. 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.”
Mr. Cuomo perpetuates a falsehood when he claimed that the IJC has not acted to improve the situation. While the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River board reduced outflows to alleviate flooding in Montreal in May, it later increased outflows to record rates to lower water levels elsewhere.
“The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River board said in a statement … that outflows through the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam at Massena and Cornwall, Ontario, are currently at the highest rate they have ever been for this time of year, dating back to at least 1900,” a Times story on Sept. 20 reported. “Outflows have been at sustained record levels for the entirety of the summer in an attempt to mitigate record-high water levels spilling into Lake Ontario over an eight-month period between November through June.”
The buildup of water levels between Canada and New York has varied causes, and they are complicated in nature. All the interconnected waterways of the Great Lakes Basin have been affected by massive rainfall throughout the past few years. To suggest that one organization can flip a switch and get rid of all that excess water is overly simplistic and deceptive.
But Mr. Cuomo won’t be deterred by reality. He views state finances as his personal revenue stream to pursue quixotic goals.
When Congress placed a cap on the state and local tax deduction in 2017, for example, New York joined several other states in claiming this act violated the U.S. Constitution. Last month, a federal judge threw the case out.
But why should the governor worry about initiating another baseless lawsuit? After all, it’s not his money that’s being wasted.