Lake Ontario being drained to prevent new flooding

Mar 15, 2018

Regulators are pushing a record amount of water out of Lake Ontario to avoid a repeat of last year's flooding.

The International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Board, which manages water levels, set a record last month for most water pushed downriver in any month since the dam was built in the 1950s. As a result, Lake Ontario levels are below where they were at the same time in 2017.

Board member Tony David says a relatively cold winter has created a stable blanket of ice on the St. Lawrence River in front of the hydropower dam in Massena, which is the only way to control water levels on Lake Ontario.

“Fortunately with the formation of stable ice cover on the St. Lawrence River, that’s allowed very high discharges through the Moses-Saunders Dam, and that has allowed us to pas these very high flows through the ice,” David said. “Not much risk of an ice jam. So we’re able to get a lot of water off Lake Ontario.”

Lake Ontario is still almost a foot above long-term averages for this time of year, at 245.9 feet. But David says the problem last year was record-breaking rain and snow melt in the spring. Even before that, he says, the mild winter didn’t provide an ice blanket to send water downstream.

“So we had a wet and mild winter, so that really complicated things for managing for stable ice cover,” David said. “We didn’t have that problem this year.”

Critics blame a new water management system called Plan 2014 for widespread flooding and erosion damage last summer and fall across the region. But David says Plan 2014 just couldn’t handle last year’s wet spring.

With this winter’s outflows lowering the Lake, he says the system is set up to prevent another year of high water. However, a lot will depend on Mother Nature.

Meanwhile, three Republican members of New York’s upstate Congressional delegation whose districts border on Lake Ontario are asking the State Department to issue a report on the International Joint Commission’s Plan 2014 and damages to the lake shoreline last spring.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence), Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-Binghamton) and Rep. John Katko (R-Syracuse) have requested House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen require this report in the upcoming legislation that will fund the State Department for the current fiscal year.

Collins said the report would require an assessment of damages and options for compensation to those impacted by the flooding.

“My constituents deserve more answers about the significant flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline that took place last year,” said Collins. “It’s important to understand the true impacts of Plan 2014 so we can find a workable solution moving forward. I’m confident that the Trump Administration is close to replacing the commissioners on the IJC with individuals that will get rid of this disastrous plan.”

In July of last year, Rep. Hal Rogers, Chairman of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, included this report in their spending bill, although it was never signed into law. The House is expected to vote on funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 before March 23.

The National Weather Service has declared March 11-17 as Flood Safety Preparedness Week.