Federal Lawmakers Criticize Lake Ontario Water Level Management

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ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – A number of federal lawmakers are concerned that high water levels on Lake Ontario will result in a repeat of the flooding seen along the lake shore in 2017.

Right now the levels are more than a foot higher than average for this time of year, and residents on the shore of the lake fear another disastrous flood is imminent come spring.

Last week, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to the International Joint Commission, which manages water levels in Lake Ontario, calling on the agency to let more water out of the lake through the Moses-Saunders Dam in order to get ahead of the flooding.

This week, central New York Reps. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica), who both represent parts of Oswego County affected by flooding in 2017, also called on the IJC to do what they can to mitigate flood risks along the lake shore.

But Tony David, who sits on the board that regulates outflows, says they’re already letting water out in record amounts, and its actually hurting other areas as well.

“While water levels on Lake Ontario are above average for this time of year,” David said. “Water levels immediately behind the dam in the area called Lake Saint Lawrence are critically low for this time of year.”

David said people need to stop focusing on water level regulation as protection from flooding

“History has shown that regulation simply can’t eliminate these risks,” he said.

Excess water in Lake Ontario can be caused by a variety of factors such as high rates of precipitation and snow melt, both of which are exacerbated by climate change.

Letter sent to Lana Pollack, Chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission by Reps. John Katko and Anthony Brindisi

March 4, 2019

The Honorable Lana Pollack

U.S. Section Chair and Commissioner

International Joint Commission – U.S Section

1717 H Street NW, Suite 801

Washington, DC 20006

Dear IJC Chair Pollack,

We write with serious concerns regarding rising water levels on Lake Ontario and request an immediate response outlining the course of action that will be pursued by the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board to mitigate flood risks to coastal communities.

As you know, shorelines across Lake Ontario were severely impacted by record flooding in 2017. The resulting devastation caused to local businesses, residences and infrastructure continue to be the subject of significant recovery efforts in coastal communities. In addition to threatening the lives of families throughout the region, continued flooding would only cause further destruction and cripple communities that are already struggling to respond to existing damage.

According to measurements released by the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board, lake levels currently stand 15 inches above the annual average for this time of year. Forecasting from the Army Corps of Engineers projects that water levels will remain at this level, significantly raising the potential for severe flooding in the event of high precipitation or other exacerbating factors. Such an outcome would be unacceptable to the ecological, economic and general wellbeing of our constituents.

With these significant concerns in mind, we are requesting immediate action from the IJC and the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board to mitigate flood risks for coastal communities. In responding to this serious situation, please outline the intended course of action for outflows from the Moses-Saunders Dam, as well as any additional factors preventing the IJC from responding to rising water levels on Lake Ontario.

Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

John Katko (NY-24)

Anthony Brindisi (NY-22)