There’s no guarantee that high water levels in Lake Ontario during March will lead to problems later this year, but memories of the 2017 flooding are enough to give residents of lakeside communities there some sleepless nights.
As of last week, the lake’s water levels were 11 inches higher than the long-term average for March, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The levels prompted Rep. Chris Collins and State Sen. Robert Ortt to send letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, urging him to hold a vote on President Trump’s nominations of three commissioners to the International Joint Commission. The nominees include Jane Corwin, the Clarence Republican and former assemblywoman, to chair the IJC.
The threat of more flooding is real, which is why the Senate needs to expedite the nominations.
Residents who live along Lake Ontario suffered some $90 million in flood damage in 2017. Collins, Ortt and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other critics placed blame on the IJC’s Plan 2014, a water regulation scheme. Cuomo said the IJC “blew it.” Collins urged Trump to replace Obama-era appointees on the commission. The president last year nominated Corwin plus an appointee from Michigan and one from North Dakota.
An IJC subsidiary, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, last June announced its study of the flooding concluded that Plan 2014 was not to blame, but rather “extreme water levels” and unconventional ice formations. It’s the more likely explanation.
What is more, as climate change continues to exert its influence, high water levels are likely to become even more common. That’s why it is important to have a full slate of commissioners on board at the IJC.
The letter urging action, signed by Collins and six other House Republicans, was also sent to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the issue has been languishing.
The Assembly district that Corwin represented from 2009 to 2016 includes parts of the Niagara County shoreline. We have said in this space before that her leadership would be welcome on the IJC.
Corwin outlined her goals last August, when her nomination was announced:
“I think the last two years have been a tremendous learning experience for the commission, and certainly going forward, take those lessons and apply them to make sure harmful impacts are not put on the people in the U.S. or on the Canadian side.”
Let’s hope she and the other nominees are seated soon.