SOUTH DUNDAS – If you own property or boat on the St. Lawrence River, be prepared for another year of record setting low water levels.
The International Joint Commission, which manages water levels on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River to Montreal, held a public meeting on June 15 to update stakeholders on current and projected conditions along the waterway. The meeting could be summed up with one word – grim.
The IJC is projecting that water levels on Lake Ontario, and the Lake St. Lawrence power pool are at the peak height for the season now and that unless significant rainfall happens, the levels will continue to decline.
Already, the IJC’s International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River board has reduced the water outflows from the Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Cornwall by 200 cubic metres per second.
The IJC said that there were three main causes for the low water conditions.
The spring run off, normally planned for from March to May did not result in any significant water increase.
Throughout Ontario, the warm weather and lack of rain has contributed to drought conditions. This again has resulted in less water entering the waterway.
The warm weather has also resulted in a higher-than-normal evaporation rate off Lake Ontario for this time of year.
Lake Ontario is 14 inches lower than the long term average for this time of year.
Lake St. Lawrence is near record low levels already, and downstream, Lake St. Louis, the Port of Montreal, and Lac St. Pierre between Sorel and Trois Rivières, Quebec are below average.
The implications of low water levels throughout the system are vast including impact on shipping into the Port of Montreal and on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Bryce Carmichael with the IJC said that in the event that Lake Ontario water levels fall below extremely levels, the IJC orders will “provide all possible relief to municipal water intakes, navigation, and power purposes.” This means focusing on those issues and leaving recreational boaters and shoreline property owners at the bottom of the priority list for any relief.
“It’s all come down to what Mother Nature has given us and our hands are really tied,” said Carmichael.
Average rain levels for 2021 are already below average for this time of year, and are dropping.
Since 1940, the lowest rain levels was in 1965, followed by 1961, and 1940.
When asked, Carmichael said that it was undetermined if a temporary increase in water levels would be possible to help with the fall boat haul out.
“We understand this is not the information you would like to receive,” Carmichael told viewers of the virtual meeting.
When asked about Plan 2014 and if that management plan was responsible for some of the low water levels, Carmichael said it was just a coincidence.
In 2018, recreation property owners and boaters were the most affected by record low water levels. The levels prompted speed and shipping conditions for ships on the Seaway. The low levels were bookended by record flooding in 2017 and 2019.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader