The International Joint Commission can do only so much to protect property owners along Lake Ontario from damage caused by high water. The good news, if anyone wants to hear it, is that it is doing just that.
Still, the binational commission may not get much credit from those lake-side landowners or state officials. They prefer to blame the organization’s new water management plan for the flooding that has swamped properties along the south shore of the lake.
Those critics are wrong, as experts have noted. But that hasn’t stopped them from ignoring the enormous volume of water the four other Great Lakes are funneling into the overflowing bathtub that is Lake Ontario.
That, perhaps, is normal, if unwise. The typical response to damage is to assign blame – even to sue, as New York State is pointlessly doing. But the culprit here is rainfall and snowmelt – watery facts of a changing environment.
Too much water is pouring into Lake Ontario, as Don Paul, WIVB’s former chief meteorologist, observed in October: “The very large outflow now going into the St. Lawrence River is generally overwhelmed by nature’s vast excess water volume upstream inexorably flowing downstream,” he wrote in buffalonews.com. “The science shows no lawsuit against the International Joint Commission can change this.”
The IJC is nonetheless responding. With the Dec. 31 conclusion of the Great Lakes shipping season, the commission is allowing even more water through the dams on the St. Lawrence River, which drains Lake Ontario. With outflows increasing as much as 10 percent, the IJC hopes to guard against another season of spring flooding. Once icing occurs on the river, though, the flow will again be reduced.
The IJC has important responsibilities and needs to be monitored. But critics would do well to focus more on the immutable facts of a changing climate and how best to respond to forces that are beyond immediate control.