WNY Outdoors Blog

Monday, June 4, 2012

Regulating Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario

New plan for regulating water levels to be discussed

 Updated: June 4, 2012, 8:23 AM

OLCOTT — A public information session here Tuesday will discuss a new plan by U.S. and Canadian officials to alter the way water levels are controlled in Lake Ontario. Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey charged last week that the International Joint Commission’s proposal would lead to more erosion and left open the possibility that the water in the summer won’t be deep enough for fishing boats to leave harbor.

Plan Bv7, as the commission calls it, would set the maximum lake water level 2.4 inches higher than the current plan, which has been in place since 1963. The minimum water level would be eight inches lower.

“This changes our water levels to higher highs and lower lows,” said Godfrey, R-Wilson. He said the impact would be felt not only in the lake itself but well inland, along feeder streams that run into the lake.

Godfrey said, “People have built retention walls and dockage based on the current levels, and the drastic change they’re proposing will have a major, major economic impact on virtually the entire southern shore of Lake Ontario.”

The commission report admits: “Because there will be greater fluctuations than under the current plan, there could be additional costs for some property owners, primarily through greater costs for maintaining and improving shoreline protection structures.”

The report also concedes, “During low-water years, there could be fewer recreational boating days.”

But the commission believes the current approach to water-level management, implemented in 1963, is outdated because it doesn’t take into account the possibility of extremely wet or extremely dry weather.
“It is not possible to keep the lake within the 4-foot range [between high and low water] under extreme water supply conditions,” the commission said in a posting on its web-site.

Water levels are regulated by allowing more or less water to flow out of the lake through a dam on the St. Lawrence River toward the Atlantic Ocean.

A new management strategy is needed, the commission’s report says, “given the uncertain impact of global climate change on the Great Lakes.”
By canceling out natural water-level fluctuations in the lake and the St. Lawrence, the 1963 plan places stress on coastal wetlands, which the commission deems “critical to the well-being of water ecosystems.”

Letting water levels rise or fall more than they are allowed to do now would allow for natural reseeding of plants in those wetlands, allowing better conditions for birds, fish and amphibians, and would make the ecosystem better able to resist pollution and invasive species, the commission believes.

Tuesday’s public information session will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Olcott Fire Company, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road.

According to the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, the federal governments of both countries would have to approve any revised plan before it could take effect.
Formal public hearings also are required before a new plan is adopted.
tprohaska@buffnews.com

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