Look for extremely low water levels to return this winter

·3 min read

SOUTH DUNDAS – Extremely low water levels may return to Lake St. Lawrence after the close of the 2020 shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The International Joint Commission announced on December 11th that it had approved a plan to deviate from its Plan 2014 to drain more water out of the Great Lakes system.

Rob Caldwell, Canadian Secretary for the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board said that this deviation plan will be similar to January 2020.

For several weeks in January, water levels along the upper portion of Lake St. Lawrence towards Iroquois dropped several feet, exposing parts of the man-made lake that had been flooded for decades.

Caldwell said that the move to release higher than normal amounts of water through the dams at Cornwall and Long Sault depends largely on the weather and ice formation on Lake St. Lawrence.

“It could be well into January before ice is formed this season,” he said.

While water levels on Lake Ontario did not reach the level of flooding in 2020 that had been previously seen in 2017 and 2019, there are high water levels on other lakes in the system.

The ILOSLR says that the levels on Lake Ontario have declined to “just above the seasonal long-term average.”

The water levels on Lake St. Lawrence are expected to stay above the minimun levels needed for municipal water supply intakes and ice formation. Should ice formation start with a cold snap, the increased water outflows would stop until ice had fully formed, then resume.

The planned deviation from the Plan 2014 water management plan is authorized until the end of February but may be extended due to conditions.

In a release the board said that even with the planned draining of more water from Lake Ontario, it is not a fix for shoreline flooding as seen in 2017 and 2019.

“If basin conditions are extremely wet, no deviation strategy will prevent water levels that can cause flooding and damage shoreline properties,” the board said. “Providing those types of benefits are beyond the reach of water regulation and are more reliably addressed through coastal resilience and planning.”

The IJC order approving the changes goes into effect January 1st, 2021. The St. Lawrence Seaway shipping season closes December 24th with the final vessel passage set for December 31st.

New board takes shape

The smaller ILOSLR board now has board members. As reported previously, the IJC approved contracting the size of the board from 12 to six members, with three representatives from Canada, and three from the United States.

Geneviève Béchard (Canada), Patricia Clavet (Quebec), Joan Frain (Ontario), Stephen Durrett (United States), Thomas Brown (New York State), and Anthony David (IJC) are the six appointees. Kyle McCune serves as alternate member for Brown.

Béchard and Durrett are co-chairs of the board.

All six members of this new incarnation of the ILOSLR served on the previous 12-member board.

An interim advisory group has also been appointed, which is comprised of the six ILOSLR members who left the board in the restructuring. The IAG was formed to retain the “professional expertise formerly represented on the board.”

The members of the IAG are Jean Aubry-Morin (Commercial Navigation), Marc Hudon (Lower St. Lawrence River), Suzie Miron (Municipal Interests – St. Lawrence River), Robert Campany (Upper St. Lawrence River), Diane Kuehn (Recreation and Tourism), and Bill Reilich (Municipal Interests – Lake Ontario).

The board restrucuring took effect December 1st.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader