Lake Ontario property owners incensed over the swollen water levels, flooded basements and, in some cases, ruined homes have a lot to be angry about but, as easy as it is to blame the International Joint Commission – or Washington and Ottawa – they should refrain.
It would be much more appropriate – if impractical – to sue Mother Nature.
Nevertheless, a group of Lake Ontario property owners upset over the floods and erosion this year and in 2017 wants to sue. It hopes to attract members to the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Alliance to support its plan to sue the U.S. and Canadian governments.
They are tilting at windmills. They claim, against the available evidence, that the two countries’ approval of a controversial lake management plan called Plan 2014 prompted the flooding. Yet water levels on all the Great Lakes are at damaging highs. After an extraordinarily wet spring, flooding has occurred around the nation, including along the Mississippi River.
There is no doubt property owners along the lake have suffered. Flooding has exacted a high cost in some cases, especially along the south shore of Lake Ontario. It is unfortunate but, given the amount of water flowing into the lake, not unexpected.
It’s true that flooding occurred within three months of the implementation of the new management plan in 2016, but that appears to be coincidence. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, who has blamed the new management plan for the floods, engineered the appointment of a former political ally, Jane Corwin, to the IJC. After reviewing the evidence, she concluded that the issue was weather, not the plan. The IJC’s Canadian chairman, Pierre Béland, said no plan could have prevented flooding under such conditions.
Precipitation has been above average for the past six to seven years. Across the Great Lakes, this year’s melted snow pack helped to swell water levels, while soil still saturated from last fall could not absorb the deluge from an unusually wet spring. The troubles are likely to continue. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has warned that November would be equally damaging to shorelines.
New York State established assistance programs to reimburse lakeshore property owners for their spending on protecting their properties. Ontario does not offer any similar plan. It raises a fair question: Why should taxpayers who didn’t buy waterfront property be required to subsidize those who did just because the weather was bad?
Lake Ontario property owners might better direct their energies elsewhere, given that high water levels across the lakes may well be a new normal. The next several months, experts say could produce some of the highest fall and winter season water levels on record on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Then what?