How the IJC is dealing with the high Lake Ontario water level

Published: January 21, 2020

The Moses-Saunders Dam The Moses-Saunders Dam. Photo by ArchonCodex/Shutterstock

With a still-high Lake Ontario water level, many waterfront cottagers are concerned about potential flooding come spring. Here’s what the International Joint Commission, which is responsible for controlling the Great Lakes water system, is doing to prepare.

10,700 cubic metres of water. Think about that amount for a second. That’s a lot of water. Think about it for another second. And another. And another. Because that’s the amount of water flowing out of Lake Ontario every second, the most ever.

The IJC’s International Lake Ontario–St. Lawrence River Board manages the outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam, on the St. Lawrence, between Cornwall, Ont., and Massena, N.Y. Mild winter weather conditions have allowed the Board to set these unprecedented high outflow levels—but only, it says in a recent press release, “during a relatively short window before temperatures fall and ice formation resumes.” So when colder weather settles in, as it seems to be doing this week, the board will have to scale back this torrent.

Meanwhile, another IJC subsidiary, the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee, is charged with assessing the damage caused by the high Great Lakes water levels and subsequent flooding in 2019. The GLAM Committee will also evaluate the “performance of the regulation plans that are used to manage outflows from Lake Superior and Lake Ontario,” referring to Plan 2014, which some are blaming for the severity of the flooding.

In a report it prepared following the severe floods of 2017, the GLAM Committee concluded that “Plan 2014…did not cause, nor meaningfully exacerbate the flooding and associated damages that occurred.” It also found that changes to the outflow limits and high water trigger levels “would have only shifted the damaging impacts from one geographic location or interest to another.” Finally, as the IJC has also said about the 2019 floods, the report on 2017 states that “regulation of outflows alone cannot eliminate severe impacts during such extreme events.”

Experts predict high water levels for the Great Lakes in 2020

If you own a property or business that was directly affected by high water levels last year, the GLAM Committee would like to hear from you for its upcoming report. Until February 14, you can fill out an online questionnaire and submit photos.

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