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.