WASHINGTON – Flood-weary residents of the Lake Ontario shoreline may have received a break Tuesday when the international body that aims to control water levels announced that it would review a controversial water-management plan that many lakeshore residents blame for the high waters.
The International Joint Commission, the U.S-Canada joint effort to manage the two nation's shared waters, said it had received $1.5 million from the U.S. government and $1.5 million from Canada to begin a study that could lead to changes in Plan 2014.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee, a subcommittee to the IJC’s International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, will conduct the study.
“The IJC is committed to making this an open and transparent review," said Jane Corwin, the American co-chair of the binational organization.
Corwin said the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee will create an advisory board, consisting of people with a stake in the issue of water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
“The advisory group will create an invaluable, direct connection between the review and those impacted by water levels and flows throughout the system,” said Pierre Béland, Canadian co-chair of the IJC.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who pushed for funding for the study, said he hopes it will lead to major changes in Plan 2014.
“With two years of record-high flood waters and the threat of high levels again this year, it’s clear that Plan 2014 needs to be overhauled," Schumer said.
Springtime flooding in 2017 and 2019 – after the implementation of Plan 2014 – caused tens of millions of dollars in flooding along the Lake Ontario waterfront. And while the IJC persistently blamed the flooding on heavy rain both years, politicians and lakeshore residents have persistently blamed Plan 2014, which replaced decades-old water management rules with new ones aimed at protecting natural habitats along the lake.
Schumer said the study should lead to big changes in Plan 2014.
"This overhaul must address changes to all the mechanisms used to control water levels, such as the current navigation limits so that water outflows can be increased during shipping season, lowering Plan 2014’s trigger levels to allow dam outflow increases sooner, and modifying outflows during the spring and fall to better manage flooding risks in order to protect Lake Ontario shoreline communities," Schumer said.
The IJC, however, seemed to try to minimize expectations for the review.
"No regulation plan will be able to prevent the extremely high water levels and flows experienced during these periods of record-setting water supplies," the commission said in a press release. "However, the IJC remains fully committed to finding the best solutions possible for managing levels and flows, especially during these periods of extreme conditions."
Lakeshore residents have been pushing for changes to the plan, as have many politicians who represent territory along the lake, including Monroe County Legislator Matthew Terp.
Terp, a Republican, was thrilled to hear that the IJC was beginning the review.
"Everyone’s hard work has paid off!" he said on Facebook.