Following a horrendous period of flooding, people living along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River have a bit of good news to claim.
The mild winter and spring have resulted in modestly lower water levels. While no one can tell what will occur in the months ahead, shoreline residents have a glimmer of hope that this year may not be as bad as last year.
The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, overseen by the International Joint Commission, said last month that water levels are expected to peak “well below” the record highs of 2017 and 2019. Lake Ontario’s level was 15.7 inches above average but 13.4 inches below the record levels established in 1973, an April 21 news release issued by the board reported.
“Water levels remain high across the Great Lakes basin. The four upper Great Lakes are near or above record-high levels, while Lake Ontario is still well above average but also well below record levels,” according to the news release. “Lake Ontario is now likely to remain below record highs through the spring. This is largely due to favorable weather conditions but also demonstrates the effectiveness of water regulation to help the system recover after the recent record-high water events. A mild winter and early spring, along with only moderately wet conditions so far this year, have resulted in less water flowing into Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River when compared to 2017 and 2019 and has allowed the release of outflows near or above record rates over the past several months. Following record outflows in winter, this spring the Ottawa River freshet has evolved in a manner that allows the board to continue to release high outflows as it follow its strategy to maximize outflows to lower the water level of Lake Ontario.”
This is certainly welcome news. Property owners along these waterways have been hammered two out of the past three years, and perhaps they’ll experience something of reprieve. But while this information is encouraging, the board reminds us that we’re not out of the woods yet.
“Nonetheless, levels of Lake Ontario and the lower St. Lawrence River remain elevated. The high inflows from the upper Great Lakes and the weather conditions during this winter and spring clearly demonstrate their predominant influence over Lake Ontario water levels,” the news release stated. “Water levels of Lake Ontario are still well above their seasonal average, and strong winds can still cause significant damage and temporary surges in local water levels. Communities should continue to invest in long-term coastal resiliency measures to lessen the impact during high and low waters.”
It’s apparent that Plan 2014, the water-management policy adopted by the IJC several years ago, did not cause the high water levels along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in 2017 and 2019. Precipitation throughout the Great Lakes basin was excessive in those years, and much of that water ended up here. This was not the case in 2018, so the water levels were not as problematic.
It’s too early to determine if flooding will affect shoreline residents in the near future and to what extent. But the good news is that the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board has been able to increase outflows and continue lowering water levels.
“This year, the Ottawa River flows reached a peak earlier than in 2017 and 2019 and the current flow is also lower than in those years,” according to a Times story published Thursday. “This has enabled the board to keep Lake Ontario outflows higher than in those years. Inflows from Lake Erie have remained extremely high, but Lake Ontario’s seasonal rise has been moderate due to the corresponding high outflows. Drier spring conditions have also helped.”
The novel coronavirus pandemic is hurting everyone across the nation. But we have reason to believe that high water levels will be less of a crisis than people in the north country have had to deal with in years past.