Help document the summer of high water on Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River

Aug 10, 2017

Researchers are trying to document the summer of high water on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. They are asking shoreline residents and local officials to complete an online survey.

It has been more than two months now since Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River swelled above flood stage. In many places, they still have not receded enough to make a difference.

"Some areas have been inundated for months and other areas are experiencing a significant amount of erosion," said Mary Austerman of New York Sea Grant. From Buffalo and Rochester all the way down the St. Lawrence to Ogdensburg, docks and boathouses have been underwater, lawns and basements flooded, town wastewater systems affected.

Owatonna Island in Chippewa Bay earlier this summer.
Credit Allan Menkel

Austerman noticed there was no central clearinghouse for documenting this once-in-a-century weather event.

"I was getting contacted by property owners themselves, asking for a way to document some of the impacts that their properties were experiencing," Austerman said.

New York Sea Grant is working with Cornell University to set up an online survey to gather data from across the region. It is not about totaling monetary damages, Austerman said. The state has set up hotlines for that and is offering millions of dollars to help pay for property damage. It is about recording what has happened and where.

"People forget quickly," she said. "This is just one way that we’re able to collect these reports in a standardized way - and we’re also collecting pictures so we’ll also have pictorial documentation of the event as well."

She said the data will be made available to communities to help them protect themselves from future flooding and erosion, especially considering the effects of climate change: "high energy storms, more localized severe events and have severe events more frequently."

Austerman said so far, more than 700 people have filled out surveys along Lake Ontario, more than 60 along the St. Lawrence River. The surveys are open until August 31.