Lakeshore communities fighting a repeat of 2017 flood damage

Apr 30, 2019

As Lake Ontario waters rise, so does concern along the lake edge about flooding. The lessons of 2017 are being applied as sandbags are moved into place and blow-up Aquadams are put into place.

High flood waters have already worn away Niagara County shoreline.
Credit Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey

Emergency managers can look in one direction and see the especially high waters of Lake Erie flooding down the Niagara River into the lake, then look in the other direction and see the dam that controls lake levels at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River keeping up that level.

Downstream from that dam there is massive flooding in Ontario and Quebec, especially around Montreal, and letting more water out of Lake Ontario would make that worse.

David Godfrey, chairman of the Niagara County Legislature's Community Safety and Security Committee, said more equipment will eventually be needed.

"We will ask for more," Godfrey said. "Jonathan Schultz, our emergency manager, has staged quite a bit of sandbags in Newfane, which is just inland from the Olcott Harbor where most of our flooding and damage was, in addition to Wilson, of course. But I also understand that over the weekend, they have already brought the Aquadams into place."

Albany has prepared thousands of sandbags, already filled, for distribution to lake shore communities. Gregory said damage from 2017 still is being felt.

"I just left a couple on the lake shore, a little bit closer to the Village of Wilson, who are still yet waiting for funding, even though people have come down to give them the okay with their permits to bring the contractors in," he said. "So there's people that have been promised funding and haven't even got it yet, let alone repair."

Sandbags are piled in Lachute, Quebec where flooding has been severe.
Credit James Morgan / NCPR News

Orleans County Legislature Chairman Lynne Johnson said her county has asked for 100 pallets of already-filled sandbags and will need more. Johnson said her county's emergency services workers are as ready as possible for flooding after hard lessons learned two years ago.

"We were blindsided in 2017, but they have been working together with them, so we're ahead of the game," Johnson said. "The state agencies are on alert. They are ready to assist our emergency managers and they know the impact we had in 2017."

Johnson said it was July of 2017 before things went really bad and they are already getting bad three months earlier this year.

"Our residents never completely recovered and now the fear is back, obviously," she said. "We lost businesses along the lake shore. We lost marinas and now they're watching their docks, as the water levels rise."

State officials are slated to meet with the International Joint Commission this week to talk about that St. Lawrence River outflow.