Why is the water so low?
Public meeting on the factors why Lake St. Lawrence is so low this year
LONG SAULT — There was plenty of frustration and some anger being expressed on Tuesday night at a public meeting regarding low water levels in Lake St. Lawrence.
Residents of the region had an opportunity to tell their stories about how the low water level on Lake St. Lawrence is affecting them and their neighbours; the concerns prompting a town hall meeting held at South Stormont Township Hall in Long Sault.
“I’ve never seen the water levels this low,” said Frank Sommerville, of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and one of the many speakers to take a turn at the microphone. “It’s affecting our beaches, it’s affecting our businesses from all of our communities. “Something has to be done.” The meeting included a slide presentation by Jamie Dickhout, alternate Canadian regulation representative with the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, who explained how the water flow system involving Lake Ontario and the river works.
And it had several politicians taking a turn to address the crowd and officials in attendance.
“I know this issue affects just about everyone in the room,” said South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde. “We have to find some solutions.”
The meeting was organized by Cliff Steinburg, director of the Ault Island Community Association, and he was thrilled with the response.
“This is fantastic, I think it’s a great opportunity, it’s an educational evening for all of us,” Steinburg said. “The whole objective is to educate ourselves on a very complex system, (and) why the International Joint Commission makes the decisions it does. And, (officials) will learn from us, how (water levels) affect us in this area. . . anyone living along Lake St. Lawrence or trying to enjoy the beaches, wetlands, ponds or recreational boating is well aware of the extreme low water levels.”
Residents consider it a huge issue, the water levels if not addressed having an effect on tourism, property values and boating.
Steinburg said most people think the problem has been caused by a hot and dry summer, “but reality is (the IJC) is controlling the water level on Lake St. Lawrence,” he said.
Steinburg said the IJC has explained that Lake St. Lawrence is low is because Lake Ontario is high, and there is an attempt to lower the level on Lake Ontario.
“The water level on Lake St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario is controlled by the Moses- Saunders Dam and Long Sault (Iroquois) Dam and when the (water flow through the dam is increased) it acts like a vacuum and pulls the water level down on Lake St. Lawrence,” Steinburg said. “The reason this happens is Lake St. Lawrence is a much smaller body of water. . . it’s a complex system that’s affected by many factors: starting with the Great Lakes, rain and snowfall throughout the system, wind conditions and global warming.”
Steinburg said Plan 2014 was supposed to offer all of the people along Lake St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie a more natural flow of water.
He said excessive rainfall in 2017 caused high water levels and flooding, and Plan 2014 was altered to address high water in Lake Ontario.
“According to the IJC, water levels are still high in Lake Ontario, and this is why we’re experiencing low water levels again this year,” Steinburg said. “For every inch they try and lower Lake Ontario, it lowers the water level on Lake St. Lawrence by approximately 20 inches.”
An IJC representative told the crowd that people from Hamilton to Trois-Rivieres are affected by water levels in the system, and that it’s rare for levels to be this low in Lake St. Lawrence, that the last time levels were lower was 20 years ago, in 1998.
But one resident who spoke blasted the officials, saying that the Lake Ontario problems are being floated down the river, that the huge population and numbers of taxpayers along the lake is why the problem is being pushed to the doorsteps of residents along Lake St. Lawrence.
There wasn’ t much push back from officials who spoke. Though when things got heated, Steinburg called for cooler heads.
“Hey, I’m a property owner too,’’ he said. “I can’t get my boat off my lift either. . . but we have to appreciate all of the different challenges the IJC is faced with.”
Dickhout said there will be some short-term relief, Oct.5-7, when Lake Ontario outflow will be decreased, a “one-time opportunity” before winter for residents to remove their watercraft.
Dickhout in her presentation explained the IJC has 10 board members, five from Canada and five from the U.S., and that the Moses Saunders Dam is “the main control structure that we use to manage the flows.”
She said it’s important to remember the board can’t control water levels, it can only influence them by managing Lake Ontario outflows, that it regulates and adjusts according to conditions on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
She said Plan 2014 is the set of rules designed to manage outflows, rules designed to respond to weather and water supply conditions.
“We don’t expect outflows to be this high every year,” Dickhout said. “We don’t expect Lake St. Lawrence levels to be this low every year.”
Dick h out said that the board wants community engagement and feedback, but that it’s important for residents to “be prepared for uncertain future conditions.” firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/FreeholderTodd
Meeting organizer Cliff Steinburg (right) with Frank Hummell, president of the Moulinette Island Residents' Association, at the Lake St. Lawrence low water levels public meeting on Tuesday night.