Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Regulatory Board Shrinks

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SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – The Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, an international government body that helps regulate water levels in the two bodies of water, has been cut in half – decreasing from 12 members to six. It’s the latest response the International Joint Commission that oversees the board has made since historic flooding along the lake and river in 2019.

IJC Commissioners Jane Corwin, left, and Pierre Béland, right attended a roundtable discussion in Oswego last year about the IJC’s Plan 2014. ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS (FILE PHOTO)

Jane Corwin, chair of the Commission’s U.S. section, said this is an attempt to make the board more agile.

“We realized that it would be beneficial for the Board to be smaller so they can make decisions in a quicker fashion. When you have 12 people on a board, sometimes it’s difficult to get everyone meeting at the same time,” Corwin said. “We’re hopeful that by going with a smaller, more nimble team of experts making the decision, having a wider array of advisory groups informing technical experts, that we will be able to make quicker decisions and more informed decisions.”

The Board will still have representatives from Canada and the U.S., but it no longer includes the two elected municipal leaders from both countries. They were added in 2019 to help the Board better understand the human and social costs of flooding in shoreline communities like Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester that has been inundated with high water levels in recent years. The town’s supervisor Bill Reilich is among those who are no longer on the board.

That is concerning to Dave McDowell, the mayor of the Village of Sodus Point, whose community has also experienced flooding in recent years. He’s not happy about the change because it signals a return to ‘old ways.’ According to McDowell, prior to the appointment of those municipal members, the Board was not as concerned with landowners along the shoreline.

“One of the things that the River Board previously didn’t seem to understand is that if they can reduce a centimeter here and there every once in awhile, months down the road that adds up and it could be the difference,” McDowell said. “That’s one of the things Bill Reilich brought to the River Board.”

Bernie Gigas, a Lake Ontario shoreline resident and licensed engineer with a specialty in fluid dynamics, praised the move. Gigas is a member of the group that is taking an in-depth review of Plan 2014, the water management plan that guides most of the Board’s actions.

“I think it’s a very good acknowledgment that things might not be working as everybody would hope, that there are opportunities for improvement,” Gigas said. “If you have a good group of six people making decisions on sound science while respecting the individual interests, then I think you have the opportunity for progress because people will tend to be less parochial.”

Reilich did not return a request for comment. He and the other former board members will continue to influence decisions affecting Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, though, as members of an interim advisory group to the Board. Over the next few months, the Commission plans to replace that interim advisory group with a permanent one made up of stakeholders and other representatives from around the basin.