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Editorial: Politicians shouldn't blame lakeshore flooding on Plan 2014

Here’s the problem with the politicians who pander to voters over the terrible flooding along the south shore of Lake Ontario: They are focusing on a largely false issue that allows them to target a scapegoat, in this case the International Joint Commission that regulates the level of the lake.

But the overarching problem is the amount of water coursing through the Great Lakes, not when it is released. Lake Erie is bloated and at its highest level since 1998. Beaches on both sides of the lake are being swallowed.

The pattern holds further upstream. “We’re higher than average on all of the lakes,” including Huron, Michigan and Superior, said Keith Kompoltowicz, a hydrology chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “That’s the result of the weather pattern.”

It’s the water. However the dams on the St. Lawrence River are manipulated, the same amount of water has to flow through the lake and down the river.

Yes, Plan 2014, which requires a greater variation of lake levels than the previous policy, has made what is already terrible a little worse, but disaster was inevitable – here, in the Thousand Islands and in Montreal, far downstream from the dams that regulate water flow and where thousands of people have been displaced.

This has been a historically rainy spring all along the Great Lakes basin. From Minnesota and Wisconsin to Michigan and Ohio – and the province of Ontario – all the water that drains into the four upstream lakes empties into Lake Ontario, where the water level is the highest it has been since 1993.

The lake has to handle everything that nature sends its way and this year it has sent a flood. Property owners along the New York shoreline were in for a terrible year, whether Plan 2014 had been adopted or not. It is unfortunate that the plan’s first year of implementation coincided with an extraordinarily rainy season, because it confuses the issues.

That timing has tempted politicians as different as Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, to rail against the plan, which plays a comparatively small role in the Lake Ontario disaster, rather than focusing more heavily on the urgent task of helping property owners along the lake to cope and recover as best as possible from a spring of nearly biblical proportions.

The work of updating the plan to regulate the lake was arduous, and offered all stakeholders a chance to influence its outcome and, in fact, it was modified as a result of that outreach. The point of making the change was valid and worthy, given that the original plan gave no consideration to environmental issues, resulting in damaged wetlands habitat, with a direct impact on wildlife and the ability to filter pollution from the lake.

If that, alone, would have caused anything like the damage that has wreaked havoc on the lake this year, it would have been necessary to block it. But it didn’t. Rainfall such as the Great Lakes area and the Northeast haven’t seen in decades is the problem and when politicians ignore that, they turn the suffering property owners along the lakeshore into political pawns. They’re looking to score easy points, not respond to an ongoing crisis.

For that, they should be ashamed.

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