Despite the irrefutable scientific research that the status quo is diminishing the quality of the ecosystems of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, public officials representing southern lake waterfront communities want nothing to change.
The International Joint Commission has urged the U.S. and Canadian governments to adopt its Plan 2014. This would make these waterways healthier and prepare for climate change by regulating the extreme high and low water levels and follow their natural, seasonal flows.
“After years of intensive analysis and extensive consultation with governments, experts, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River interests, and the public, the IJC concludes that a new approach to regulating the flows and levels of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, Plan 2014, should be implemented as soon as possible,” according to the executive summary of Plan 2014. “The IJC finds that the regulation of water levels and flows in the St. Lawrence River in accordance with the 1952 and 1956 Orders of Approval has damaged ecosystems along the coast of Lake Ontario and upper St. Lawrence River over the last 50 years or more. The effects of the regulation of water flows and lake levels on ecosystems were not fully understood or considered when the existing Order of Approval and regulation plan were developed. However, robust coastal ecosystems are now recognized as essential in both countries, and the IJC finds that the effects on ecosystems should now be considered along with effects to other interests and uses.”
People living in coastal properties along the southern lakeshore, however, believe that Plan 2014 would increase the potential for flooding. The Monroe County Legislature and Wayne County Board of Supervisors have passed resolutions opposing the IJC’s proposal. Some state legislators from these regions have called on U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry to thwart efforts to carry out the plan.
Under most circumstances, the IJC may enact its own Orders of Approval. But the flows of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are moderated through the release of water at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall. Since the applications to operate the dams were made by the U.S. and Canadian governments, they are the entities that must approve Plan 2014 for it to be implemented.
The problem with the call by south shore partisans to block Plan 2014 is there are no accompanying recommendations to reverse the damage done to the ecosystems over the past several decades. Keeping things the way they are will only ensure that the health of these waterways continues to deteriorate.
It’s imperative that the U.S. and Canadian governments implement Plan 2014. And in doing so, there is a way to deal with possible riparian damage.
Regulating the waterways as called for in Plan 2014 will ramp up output of the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam and, thus, increase New York Power Authority revenues by millions of dollars a year. The state should enact legislation requiring that a sufficient portion of those new dollars generated from the increased flow in the St. Lawrence should be set aside to support appropriate mitigation.
If the IJC proposal is adopted, concerns for the ecosystems as well as coastal properties will be addressed. But doing nothing will only force more drastic action in the future when the environment and the vibrancy of the lake and river to support nature and humankind will have deteriorated even more.