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Editorial: International agreement on water levels will improve the health of Lake Ontario

For years, the International Joint Commission has been working responsibly on a plan to vary the water levels on Lake Ontario. Now, it has produced an agreement that has drawn nearly universal support. It’s a wise approach that should be implemented.

The plan is to use a power dam on the St. Lawrence River to allow the lake to fluctuate in a way less contrived than the policy that has been in place since the 1950s. The benefits will be broad. Significant among those beneficiaries is the environment.

Wetlands that have been damaged will regenerate, filtering pollutants from the lake while providing habitat for amphibians, birds, mammals and fish. Those issues, which are important to the overall health of the lake, deserve serious attention.

Other issues were given that respect when the original management plan was created – shipping, boating, fishing, power generation and recreation. But the environment wasn’t, and that created an unbalanced approach to the artificial environment that any manipulation of lake levels necessarily produces.

Not everyone wins in his plan. Property owners along the south shore of Lake Ontario are worried that the greater fluctuation of water levels will produce costly erosion, as the plan itself acknowledges. Yet, those property owners are virtually alone among the stakeholders opposing the plan.

But those property owners have an influential ally in Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. Collins has pledged to oppose the plan, hoping to derail the congressional approval required by its status as a treaty. The Canadian government also needs to approve the plan.

It’s true that those south shore property owners have legitimate concerns. They bought their properties under circumstances that are now changing. Their needs shouldn’t be ignored, even if the plan is ultimately implemented.

Nevertheless, Collins is taking the wrong approach. His response, and Washington’s, should be to help those landowners to adjust to the coming changes, not to block an important plan that not only benefits virtually every other stakeholder group, but one that was years in the making, with all constituencies given a hearing. It is disrespectful to ignore the hard and diligent work that went into creating this balanced plan. And it’s irresponsible.

Sometimes, outright opposition is a fair response to far-reaching proposals. But opposition is easy. It can become reflexive, too readily adopted when other responses may be more appropriate and, in fact, more useful. This is one.

We hope Collins, who has constituents beyond the Lake Ontario shoreline, will reconsider and look for ways to close the gap between the advocates and opponents of a plan that provides many long-term benefits.

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