WATERTOWN — Flooding along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario may not be as bad as feared. Regulators of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River say water levels this year are expected to peak “well below” the record-highs of 2017 and 2019.
The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board said in a statement Tuesday that while the lake’s water levels are currently well above average, these improving conditions are a result of the moderate weather and water supply conditions so far this year. All four upper Great Lakes are at or above record levels, the board stated, while Lake Ontario is well above average, but still well below record levels.
The board said in a statement on April 21, that the lake’s level remains nearly 16 inches above its long-term average for this point in the year, but about 13 inches below its seasonal record high set in 1973.
In its Tuesday statement, the board also credited the improving conditions of the lake’s water levels to actions taken by the board to increase lake outflows and help the system recover faster following extreme high water level periods.
Also noted as a “key factor” contributing to lower water levels is that the Ottawa River system has reached a peak earlier than it did in 2017 and 2019. The board has been able to continue increasing Lake Ontario outflows partially because the Ottawa River has been declining and the downstream conditions can now handle additional flow, the board stated.
The Ottawa River is the largest tributary of the St. Lawrence River.
The conditions outlined have contributed to Lake Ontario’s water levels seeing a much more moderate rise this spring, despite extremely high and sustained inflows from neighboring Lake Erie.
The board and its counterpart, the International Joint Commission, have faced harsh condemnation over the years for its implementation of Plan 2014. 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 board and its technical team say that pushed “beyond” Plan 2014’s limits to increase outflow limits and downstream water level limits past what was previously perceived as feasible, which resulted in “positive” gains over the winter and spring months, the statement said.
“It’s worth reiterating that no regulation plan can be designed to address every imaginable and sustained extreme weather event and provide total protection for all water uses throughout the system at all times,” the statement read. “While the Board is encouraged by current and projected water levels, the Board can’t predict what the weather will bring and encourage shoreline communities to not let their guards down.”
Improving water level conditions can be seen by visiting https://ijc.org/en/loslrb/watershed/flows.