WNY Outdoors Blog

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rising Lake Level

Concerns Heighten With Rising Lake Level

WILSON, NY - As the Supervisor of this Niagara County town which hugs the Lake Ontario shoreline, Joseph Jastrzemski, has heard the concerns of his constituents.
As a lake shore resident himself, he's experienced them first hand.
"We're losing our property all along the lakeshore," Jastrzemski told WGRZ-TV.
It's not a new problem. In fact, the garage at Jastrzemski's Lake Road home used to be a boathouse until a few decades ago, when a previous property owner moved it inland to keep it from being swallowed by rising lake waters.

"It was probably about 20 feet out from where the shore is now," said Jastrzemski, while standing next to a deck overlooking the lake which is currently in his yard, but which he predicts will also succumb to the water.

"It'll be gone and it'll be in the water as we continue to lose more and more property on the U.S. side every year," he said.

Lately Jastrzemski and other lake shore denizens say the erosion problem has gotten worse.

"The level of the lake is primarily determined by natural factors," remarked Frank Bevacqua, Public Affairs Officer for the International Joint Commission, which among other things regulates the lake levels.

And the mild winter of 2011-2012 may well have factored into what's going on now.

While Lake Ontario has never frozen over in recorded history, a typical winter usually brings a buildup of shoreline ice, sometimes stretching several hundred yards from the beach.

"Certainly the fact that there has not been the usual ice cover along the shore has exposed the shore to all the wave and wind action this winter," Bevacqua said.

However, folks who live along the lake are even more concerned about a plan being considered by the International Joint Commission to allow lake levels fluctuate more than they are now, in part to address environmental concerns for lakeshore wetlands.

It will result in higher highs and lower lows when it comes to water levels.

"I think people are fearful of any change," said Bevacqua. "The new plan does increase the variability...I've seen some figures to suggest that there will be about a 10% increase in the long term erosion rate of some locations, but in some locations it will actually be an improvement for people because it will give an opportunity for beaches and dunes to rebuild."

But Jastrzemski sees problems in either case.

"If that lake level is allowed to rise another foot, not only will shoreline residents lose more of their property, but the docks in Wilson Harbor will be under water," he said. Conversely, Jastrzemski says if lake levels dip too low, then many of the boats harbored at Wilson could possibly become land locked. "That'll create a huge havoc on our sport fishing industry," Jastrzemski said .

"There are a lot of interests in the (Great Lakes) system," said Bevacqua. "It's very intensely used and those interests are often conflicting."

Jastrzemski says affected residents don't even get a break on their property taxes when they lose land they own to the water.

"Unfortunately that is not the case...there is no bright side to this," he said.

Late this Spring the International Joint Commission will begin hosting a series of public meetings about its future plans, where Bevacqua expects to hear from stakeholders from Youngstown to the 1,000 Islands region.

"The main thing it would accomplish would be to take account of all the interests affected by water levels and flows, and not just those that were looked at in the 1950's (when the Commission was formed). We have to think about all of the folks this will be affecting," Bevacqua said.

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