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Letter: Lake Ontario flooding is an avoidable disaster

Twenty-seventeen and 2019 Lake Ontario flooding was caused by the annual freshet (spring thaw) of the Ottawa River in Montreal. At peak Ottawa River flow, Lake Ontario outflow is reduced to limit Montreal flooding (Plan 2014 F-Limit). During average springs, this can work.

However, if Ottawa River flows in April and May are significantly above average or the St. Lawrence has unstable winter ice conditions, Lake Ontario shorelines and tributaries are at high risk of flood as long as the International Joint Commission (IJC) uses the current year-end Lake Ontario target level of 245.41 feet.

Once the F-Limit no longer applies, commercial shipping limits apply (Plan 2014 L-Limit), extending Lake Ontario flooding during June and July. The shipping companies do not suffer from a bad plan they helped create. To put this into numbers: since implementation of Plan 2014, for the nine months of the year when there is no ice limit, the IJC has set Lake Ontario outflows per either F-Limit or L-Limit over 95% of the time.

New York and federal tax dollars are spent to keep Montreal from washing away and for shipping companies’ profit.

Twenty-seventeen and 2019 Ottawa River freshets were unusually high but foreseeable using 20-year history (1997-2016 and 1999-2018, respectively). Instead of throwing up their hands and blaming Mother Nature, the IJC has to solve the failures of Plan 2014.

A fixed 245.41-foot Dec. 31 Lake Ontario target level, irrespective of climate change, has shown not to work. I propose a sliding scale target based on analysis of recent Ottawa River freshet and foreseeable future inflow from Lake Erie. For current climate conditions, this means the Dec. 31, 2019, target should be less than 244.25 feet.

Changing to a sliding scale Dec. 31 Lake Ontario target level does not guarantee we will not have future floods, but not changing to a sliding scale virtually guarantees future floods and a peak of 249.50 feet or higher is foreseeable.

The F-Limit helping Montreal is unaffected by this proposal. Commercial shipping will likely oppose because the L-Limit may need to be overruled in late November and December

In my opinion, it is time for all Lake Ontario residents, businesses and recreational users to defend our rights. We should not idly stand by, as the IJC currently appears to be doing, while our cherished environment, natural resources and property are damaged or destroyed by bad regulations.

Bernie Gigas

Rochester

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