Representatives of one group are misleading people concerning how to resolve the ongoing flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Alliance held a meeting Jan. 15 in the Henderson Fire Department. About 50 people attended the event to hear a presentation by Jim Shea, president of the organization.

Mr. Shea proposed litigation, lobbying efforts and civil disobedience to force the International Joint Commission to substantially revise Plan 2014, its water management policy. Many shoreline residents blame Plan 2014 in large part for the excessive flooding they’ve sustained in both 2017 and 2019.

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.

There is a good reason that our local waterways flooded last year.

“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,” according to a story published Oct. 10 in the Watertown Daily Times. “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.”

The regions along all the Great Lakes have experienced extensive rainfall over the last few years. And each lake feeds into the other, so they’ll take on excess water from adjacent waterways.

This excess water flows downstream, so it will eventually end up in Northern New York. Lake Superior has an elevation of 600 feet, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan about 577 feet, and Lake Erie roughly 569 feet.

With an elevation of 243 feet, Lake Ontario is the lowest of the Great Lakes. It captures all the water flowing downstream from the other Great Lakes.

This makes getting rid of excess water a monumental task. Extensive outflows this past year have lowered the water level only a matter of inches each month — and what shoreline residents need is a reduction of several feet.

These measures are hampered by additional precipitation over the last month in Northern New York and along the Great Lakes. Reducing the water level in Lake Ontario will only be successful once it is lowered in the other Great Lakes as well.

Critics of Plan 2014 want the IJC to try to reduce water levels along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River by increasing outflows. But the IJC must balance the interests of both Canadian and U.S. property owners. People in Montreal saw heavy flooding last year, and increased outflows will only worsen their situation.

And for more than nine months of the year, commercial shipping makes use of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Moving goods from other states totaling about $53 million a day, halting this traffic will have grave economic consequences.

The Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Alliance is considering a lawsuit and solicited funds from residents at the Jan. 15 meeting. There are questions of whether it can sue the IJC and if its legal action would be upheld.

But the most egregious announcement made by Mr. Shea was that some people may attempt a blockade of commercial shipping on the St. Lawrence River later this year. This would a dangerous undertaking, and encouraging any such action is incredibly irresponsible.

No one wants to see shoreline residents endure another season of flooding. But climate change has resulted in substantially more precipitation, and it’s not likely to stop. We need to prepare for continued high water levels and find ways to minimize the problems this causes.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(8) comments

Sohomish

With all due respect to Mr. Shea, he simply ignores the facts and the reality of riparian ownership. Periodic significant fluctuations in weather pattern are normal; climate change only magnifies economic impacts. As a riparian for almost twenty-five years and having worked on IJC Water Level Studies since the early 1970’s, I’ve witnessed the drought years of the 1960s; the high water years of the 1980’s, and the years when low water on the St. Lawrence river damaged so many lower units in boat engines that manufacturers could not provide replacements until the following year. Climate experts predicted our area of North America would experience higher precipitation as the new normal. Well, the prediction is our new reality. Rather than focus on water levels, Mr. Shea should focus on measures to improve shoreline resilience to the new reality. Many cottages are in unsustainable locations and either torn down or relocated. I suggest Mr. Shea review the 2019 study by a Canadian independent hydraulic engineer who addressed recent record flooding in Muskoka Region of Ontario. His conclusion was that record precipitation and untimely snow melt simply over whelmed the hydraulic capacity of the river and lake system. As far as I know, no water from the Great Lakes flows into Muskoka; all waters flow out primarily into Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.

Interestingly, Canada’s and Ontario’s Disaster legislation provides no relief to second home cottagers. That includes bridges to areas where only seasonal cottages (or second homes) are located.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but Mr. Shea simply ignores basic facts.

jkoch

I'm not a River Rat or shore line owner, so watching from the sidelines. But I was wondering why the Thruway Authority isn't assisting in the relief by letting the maximum amounts possible out through the Oswego, Erie, Mohawk canal system. I recognize it is small and it is only a minor player at best, but I drove by it yesterday and noted it was down at winter levels where the bottom was visible. For all the shouting Albany does, one would think it might show some effort in relieving the pressure. Does anyone know why they aren't doing this?

Gracie02

You answered your own question.... it is small and it is only a minor player at best.... and doesn't rank far behind thinking and additional 10% increase in outflow at Massena will affect the flooding... miniscule affects..and lacks an understanding of the volume of water the Great Lakes hold..

zeitgeist

I agree with the editorial-- that climate change has led to high water levels, that Plan 2014 is sound (but merits continued assessment), and that we need to prepare for continued high water levels and find ways to minimize the problems they cause. As Gracie02 said, "deal with it." At our family cottage in Clayton, we are dealing with it. It hasn't been easy! With that said, I still want to reach the critics. Presumably, the Times' editorial is intended to reach them, too. A lot is written today about climate change distress and trauma-- what we can do to manage distressing and trauma-related feelings resulting from climate change. The floods of 2017 and 2019 were distressing and traumatic for many Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River folks. Many feel angry, helpless, hopeless, sad, financially strained, fearful, anxious, powerless, alienated, exhausted, etc. It's understandable that many are critics of climate change and climate change-related remedies and solutions. However, I don't think a critic's mind is enlightened or changed when his or her feelings are not addressed, and they are not addressed when we limit our discussion on high water to its scientific causes and practical remedies and solutions. Google "dealing with people's feelings about climate change." Read how environmental scientists at Yale, psychologists, engineers, and other professionals have become deeply concerned with the feelings experienced by people undergoing climate change-related distress and trauma. What they have learned is that, when we fail to acknowledge, address, resolve or redirect the feelings, it results in critics who suffer, deny facts, reject best practices, act in ways that are counter-productive or dangerous, waste energy, time and money on frivolous litigation, organize and become tribal, become obsessive, lose sleep, etc. We can continue to discuss the issue of high water in the north country scientifically and practically, over and over again, like a broken record. But have we reached the critics? We haven't... which is why we persist in speaking our message over and over again. It's time to enlarge the message so it includes emotional, relational, cognitive and behavioral strategies for dealing with distress and trauma related to climate change. We have to promote the wellness of critics by alleviating their distressing and traumatic feelings. We can't expect openness to science and practical remedies and solutions without wellness, first.

Holmes

Instead of throwing up their hands and blaming Mother Nature, the IJC has to solve the problem. 2017 and 2019 Lake Ontario flooding was caused by the annual freshet (spring thaw) of the Ottawa River in Montreal. At peak Ottawa River flow, Lake Ontario outflow is reduced to limit Montreal flooding (Plan 2014 F-Limit). Thanks to the IJC Lake Ontario floods so Montreal doesn't. Then during the summer months the river and lake are kept high so large ships can pass. It appears that Plan 2014 needs to be replaced with Plan 2020.

Gracie02

Holmes - it ain't just us....google high water news Lake Superior...and the entire great lakes shoreline has the same issue...their screaming to let more water out of lake Superior...and the Lake Michigan residents want the outflow reduce.. "Twin City News - Jan 6 But Charles Sidick, hydrologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit who oversees Lake Superior water levels, said the outflow is near the maximum safe level for the man-made structures. The outflow also is within the plan set by agreement between the U.S. and Canada. Moreover, releasing more water from Superior faster will only compound the problems downstream, such as on Lake Michigan where an entire Muskegon County, Mich., waterfront home fell into Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day due to high water erosion. Lakes Michigan-Huron are now above the previous January record by 1.7 inches and were 37 inches above average for Jan. 1 and 17 inches above the level on Jan. 1 one year ago." Chicago Tribune - Despite help from the control board, the consequences of shoreline erosion are drastic along Lake Superior. On the northern shores of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Tim and Susan Biehl have seen Lake Superior's rising water overtake beaches, inundate sections of shoreline parks and in some cases claim entire homes."Cabins built 50, 60 years ago have gone into the lake," said Tim Biehl, 71, who noted the water reaches to the tree line in some places. "You can walk down the north shore, and the number of trees on the beaches is phenomenal."

Newsjunkie39a

Plan 2014 is designed to return the river to the conditions that would prevail if the dams did not exist. That means "normal" flows some years, but high water levels in some years, and low levels in some, too--just the way the river behaved "back when." The plan also acknowledges the need for funding to mitigate property damage caused by high water. Thus its main thrust is to let the river be itself--as it was before the Seaway and Power Project was constructed.

Gracie02

This article absolutely nailed it.... these anti- groups continue to ignore the big picture...and for some reason ignore weekly articles regarding massive flooding in the other Great Lakes.. ...they want to stop shipping on the entire Great Lakes system and Seaway so they don't have to build a sea wall, or get a floating dock...or better yet, have someone else pay for it.. deal with it! Their position is beyond comprehension....

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