Some in­sist new reg­u­la­tions are to blame for Lake On­tario’s rise, but U.S.-Cana­dian com­mis­sion says no

Blame it on the rain? Some in­sist new reg­u­la­tions to blame

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARY ESCH

Four months after an in­ter­na­tional body ap­proved a new plan for reg­u­lat­ing Lake On­tario’s wa­ter level, prop­erty own­ers who had claimed the rules favoured muskrat lodges over lake­side homes are pil­ing sand­bags against just the kind of flood waters they had feared.

But a joint U.S.-Cana­dian com­mis­sion says its new rules aren’t to blame for the waves crash­ing over break­walls and flood­ing hun­dreds of prop­er­ties along the lake’s south­ern and east­ern shores. It con­tends the lake is at its high­est level in 24 years, roughly 50 cen­time­tres above av­er­age, be­cause of near-record spring rains.

“It’s the per­fect storm, be­tween the heavy spring rains and the new plan,” said Chris Tertinek, the Repub­li­can mayor of So­dus Point, a vil­lage of 1,200 peo­ple on Lake On­tario’s south­ern shore, 50 kilo­me­tres east of Rochester.

Repub­li­can politi­cians who had lob­bied against the reg­u­la­tions known as Plan 2014 are now call­ing on U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to roll back the rules, which were pro­moted by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and adopted by the In­ter­na­tional Joint Com­mis­sion in De­cem­ber after 16 years of study and dis­cus­sion.

Frank Be­vac­qua, a spokesper­son for the com­mis­sion, said lake lev­els would have been nearly iden­ti­cal un­der the pre­vi­ous reg­u­la­tion plan.

But Tertinek and oth­ers said the old plan would have al­lowed re­leases months ago in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ris­ing waters.

Demo­cratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo trav­elled to the area Tues­day to get a first­hand look at the flood­ing that has af­fected hun­dreds of homes and busi­nesses. He said the state is for­mally ap­peal­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Joint Com­mis­sion to re­lease ad­di­tional wa­ter through the Moses-Saun­ders Dam on the St. Lawrence River to lower Lake On­tario lev­els.

The com­mis­sion must con­sider the im­pact of re­leases on down­stream com­mu­ni­ties in Que­bec, in­clud­ing the city of Mon­treal, where rain-driven flood­ing has prompted some evac­u­a­tions.

Cuomo de­clared a state of emer­gency for sev­eral shore­line coun­ties, free­ing up the Na­tional Guard and other state resources in­clud­ing pumps, gen­er­a­tors and 350,000 sand­bags.

Cuomo warned that ex­perts pre­dict the lake lev­els to rise even higher by the end of May, but he did not ap­pear to take a side in the de­bate over rules versus rain. He noted only that cli­mate sci­en­tists say weather dis­as­ters are be­com­ing more common in an era of global warm­ing.

Lake On­tario has been ar­ti­fi­cially con­trolled by the Moses-Saun­ders Dam since 1960 for the ben­e­fit of St. Lawrence Se­away ship­ping, re­cre­ational boat­ing, hy­dro­elec­tric power gen­er­a­tion and pro­tec­tion of mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of coastal prop­erty. Plan 2014, which is de­signed to more closely mimic the lake’s nat­u­ral ups and downs, adds muskrats, fish and other wildlife to the list of in­ter­ests reg­u­la­tors must con­sider when they de­cide how much wa­ter to re­lease.

Bi­ol­o­gists say more nat­u­rally fluc­tu­at­ing wa­ter lev­els will help re­store 25,900 hectares of wet­lands that are home to muskrats, spawn­ing grounds for fish and nat­u­ral buf­fers for storm surges. The plan is also ex­pected to lengthen the boat­ing sea­son, re­build dunes and gen­er­ate more hy­dropower.

But the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits will hap­pen grad­u­ally over a decade. Flood­ing is hap­pen­ing now.

“I re­turned from Florida yes­ter­day to find my road flooded and the lake just lash­ing at my dock and my break­front,” said Chris Klee of the Rochester sub­urb of Greece, where res­i­dents have been pil­ing sand­bags to hold back flood waters for two weeks. “Ev­ery­body up here is up­set.”

Like many shore­line res­i­dents, Klee op­posed Plan 2014 and is skep­ti­cal of as­ser­tions that the rule changes have noth­ing to do with the high wa­ter. But reg­u­la­tors say the same kind of flood­ing hap­pened with heavy rains un­der the old plan in 1973 and 1993.

“The ef­fects we’re see­ing now are due strictly to hy­dro­logic con­di­tions in the basin, mostly heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion,” said Arun Heer, an of­fi­cial with the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers and sec­re­tary of the In­ter­na­tional Lake On­tario-St. Lawrence River Board.

JAMIE GERMANO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Flood waters from Lake On­tario fill a yard along Edge­mere Drive in Greece, N.Y., on Tues­day. “Ev­ery­body up here is up­set,” said one home­owner.

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