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Save The River Hosts International Joint Commissioners

June 28th, 2019 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

On Friday, June 28, 2019 Save The River hosted three of the six new commissioners of the International Joint Commission (IJC) this morning, including both the U.S. and Canadian section chairs. The meeting began with Save The River Board president Captain Jeff Garnsey taking the commissioners and staff for a boat tour departing from Clayton’s village docks to show the commissioners the village waterfront and how businesses are coping with the high water. Moving upriver the tour paused to float in Grindstone Island’s Flynn Bay where Jeff, a fifth-generation fishing guide, explained that the bay is one of the area’s most important northern pike and muskellunge hatcheries and the return of more natural water levels, supported by Plan 2014, will reduce the dense mat of cattails that have choked the bay’s shorelines and prevented these prized sport fish from reaching their historical breeding grounds.

Jeff’s knowledge was supplemented by Tom Brown, Rob Campany, and Tony David all of whom are members of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB). 

Upon returning to shore, we met in our conference room where I began the roundtable discussion by reading Save The River’s opening remarks (click here to read). Congresswoman Elise Stefanik then addressed the group by phone to voice her longtime support of Plan 2014, the importance of fact-based assessments in the adaptive management process, and the need to address property owners concerns.

The group discussed the importance of the adaptive management component of Plan 2014, the need to listen to property owner’s concerns, the value of providing readily accessible education about the true causes of high water levels, and the vital importance of working together to build more resilient communities. 

In attendance at the meeting were: Jeff Garnsey – Save The River’s Board President and owner of Classic Island Cruises, myself, Jane Corwin – U.S. Section Chair of the IJC, Pierre Béland – Canadian Section Chair of the IJC, Lance Yohe – U.S. Commissioner of the IJC, Wayne Jenkinson – Senior Engineer Adviser of the IJC, Paul Allen – Programs and Communication for the IJC, Frank Bevacqua – Public Information Officer for the IJC, Tom Brown – Board Member of the ILOSLRB, Rob Campany – Board Member of the ILOSLRB, Phil Reed – Jefferson County Legislator, Rick Gregware – Save The River Board Director and owner of Northern Marine, Inc., Ann Ward – Save The River Board Director, Norma Zimmer – Mayor of the Village of Clayton, Tony David – Board Member of the ILOSLRB, Eric Mower – Eric Mower + Associates, Jim Howe – Executive Director of the Central and Western NY Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Bobby Cantwell – Jefferson County Legislator, Patricia Shulenburg – Program Manager of Save The River, and Margaret Hummel – Outreach Coordinator of Save The River. 

I have a great deal of empathy for everyone suffering from the effects of the high water. As I have previously shared, my family’s property is taking a beating with our boathouse significantly underwater – I wear boots to and from the boat every day. But we must recognize that this is a long term situation with the Great Lakes being at or near record high levels and experiencing record or above average precipitation caused by climate change. We all need to think about how we can make both our personal and municipal properties more resilient using environmentally sound methods whenever possible.

Thank you to our members for your support of Save The River, and the River. Let’s do everything we can to support our local businesses this year. 

I hope to see you soon on the River.

-John Peach, Executive Director of Save The River 

 

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2019 Historic High Water Levels on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario

June 17th, 2019 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

A message from John Peach, Executive Director of Save The River and Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper: 

This statement from our partners at The Nature Conservancy parallels Save The River’s position on the current water levels plan. Plan 2014 replaced the outdated Plan 1958D, which was drawn up when environmental science was in its infancy. For the first time, the water level regulations plan gave a voice to the environment, recreational boating, and provided for adaptive management to review and make recommended changes to the plan as time goes on.

Since it became apparent earlier this spring that the River was facing another extremely high water year, Save The River has been working with legislators and regulators to help our members and River residents have a better understanding of the causes. We hosted a boat tour and roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, River residents, local business owners and elected officials. We also spent a morning showing Government Accounting Office officials the environmental benefits and shoreline mitigation efforts that will result from more natural water level fluctuations.

This year’s high water has been caused by record or near record water levels in all of the Great Lakes coupled with above average rainfall in the Great Lakes and Ottawa River Basins. The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board acted responsibly by discharging the fourth highest recorded average outflows of water from the Moses- Saunders Dam from December 2018 through March 2019. However, once the flooding of the Ottawa River began to flood Montreal and displace thousands of families from their homes, the only responsible course of action for the Board was to slow the flow of water through the dam. To exacerbate Montreal’s flooded conditions with increased outflows would have been morally unacceptable to all residents on both sides of the border.

The historic high water is frustrating to all of us living and working on the River. I believe that we would all be better served to work together to help communities and residents understand and plan to adapt to future extreme water levels, rather than political posturing to curry favor with voters and shoreline residents.

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Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Save The River Host Roundtable Discussion

May 31st, 2019 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

On Wednesday, May 29 Congresswoman Stefanik visited Save The River for a working tour of the St. Lawrence River followed by a roundtable with local business owners, elected officials representing towns, villages, and counties along the River, and members of the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River (ILOSLR) Board.  

Jeff Garnsey, president of Save The River’s board of directors, captained the boat tour that began with a look at the work done to protect the village of Clayton’s waterfront properties. Moving upriver the tour paused to float in Grindstone Island’s Flynn Bay where Captain Garnsey, a fifth-generation fishing guide, explained that the bay is one of the area’s most important northern pike and muskellunge hatcheries and the return of more natural water levels, supported by Plan 2014, will reduce the dense mat of cattails that have choked the bay’s shorelines and prevented these prized sport fish from reaching their historical breeding grounds. As the tour moved downstreamand back to Clayton, the group was able to view how waterfront residents are modifying their docks, boathouses, and homes to the adapt to the high-water levels.

Following the boat tour, Save The River and Congresswoman Stefanik hosted a roundtable discussion with a wide spectrum of voices including business and tourism leaders, local elected officials, and members of the IJC to discuss both the benefits of Plan 2014 and the concerns of Riverfront residents about the water levels. Tom Brown, a U.S. member of the IJC’s International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, provided an educational background on the water level regulations plan (1958D) that historically governed the outflows of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and noted that that in reality Plan 2014 was not a dramatic change from prior plans but it acknowledges the critical importance of natural level fluctuations and accounts for previously unrepresented interests, including the environment and recreational boating. Brown, along with Save The River, reaffirmed the importance of moving forward with a continued commitment to Plan 2014, while acknowledging another important component of the plan: the Great Lakes Adaptive Management’s Committee who is tasked with the long-term adaptive management process to review and improve outflow regulation.

The discussion then turned to the extraordinary conditions that are causing high water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River this year including:

  • all five of the Great Lakes currently dealing with above average water levels, including Lake Erie which has reached record highs in the month of May and represents 80% of the inflow entering Lake Ontario,
  • significant spring runoff and heavy precipitation leading to the flooding of the Ottawa River basin, a water system that is nearly two and a half times the size of the Lake Ontario watershed basin, and which empties into the lower St. Lawrence River where it impacts downstream cities,
  • such as Montreal which has faced historic flooding since mid-April with over 10,000 residents who have had to evacuate their homes, and
  • above average precipitation throughout the region; Watertown has already recorded nearly double the average amount of rainfall for the month of May.

In short, Brown explained, “There is too much water upstream and there is too much downstream, there is nowhere for it to go.”

Rob Campany, also a U.S. member of the IJC’s International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, discussed the delicate balancing act of maximizing outflows, especially during the winter months when the board must closely monitor ice formation and adjust outflows to allow the formation of a stable ice cover to prevent ice jams that can cause devastating destruction and inland flooding. Campany noted that in the months of December 2018 through February 2019 record high outflows were achieved, the fourth highest outflows in over 100 years of monitoring. Without the increased outflows this past winter, this year’s flooding would have been more significant.

Discussion around the table included concerns from downriver residents who experienced extreme low water levels in 2018, the economic importance of an extended boating season supported by Plan 2014, and recollections of high-water years in past decades including the 1970s. Ron Thomson, owner and operator of Uncle Sam Boat Tours, noted that with all of the area’s outstanding tourist attractions “…the number one attraction is the River itself, which means the health of the River is critical for our business.”

Congresswoman Stefanik wrapped up the meeting by addressing concerns about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to local municipalities and encouraged local officials to contact her office so that they could work together to track FEMA applications. Stefanik also heard about the critical need for modern digital flood maps that are being created by FEMA across the nation but have not yet been created for the St. Lawrence River region; Stefanik noted that an official request will be made to prioritize mapping the River. Finally, Stefanik also commented that based on her conversations with Brown, Campany, and others it was clear that more work on shoreline resiliency was essential.

“It was important for Save The River to be able to take Congresswoman Stefanik and local leaders out on the River to see the measures being taken by the community and River residents to adapt to the high-water levels,” said John Peach, executive director of Save The River. “We’re grateful both for her ongoing support of Plan 2014 and for her response to our communities in these years’ of extreme conditions that create record high water levels.”

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Senate Protects St. Lawrence River & Great Lakes

April 26th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

Senate Votes to Protect the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes: Defeats Vessel Incidental Discharge Act

Last Wednesday, after a tremendous outpouring of opposition led by Save The River members and many others across the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence region, the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 (S.1129). This bill contained a harmful provision, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), that would have weakened rules protecting clean water and shift the oversight of ballast water discharge from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the U.S. Coast Guard.

If S.1129 with the VIDA amendment had passed, the health of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes would have been put in serious jeopardy with the threat of new aquatic invasive species introduced via ballast water discharges. Learn more here.

Your calls and emails were enormously important in defeating this harmful legislation. Thank you!

Join us in thanking the Great Lakes region Senators who voted to block this bill from going forward; call the Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121 or send a message of thanks via social media (sample message below):

Thank you [insert your Senator(s)] for voting to protect our #StLawrenceRiver, #GreatLakes & #CleanWater by opposing VIDA! This bad bill would have weakened #invasivespecies protections. @SaveTheRiver member.

Senators to thank:

Minnesota – @AmyKlobuchar and @SenTinaSmith

Wisconsin – @SenatorBaldwin

Illinois – @SenatorDurbin (Sen. Duckworth did not vote either way)

Michigan – @SenStabenow and @SenGaryPeters

Ohio – @SenSherrodBrown

New York – @SenGillibrand and @SenSchumer

Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, ocean-going freighters carrying contaminated ballast water have introduced 100+ aquatic invasive species to the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. Invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, round gobies, and the fish-killing VHS virus have caused irreparable environmental and economic damage to the River and the entire Great Lakes regions.

For 40 years Save The River has been the voice for the St. Lawrence. We will always stand to protect the health of the River but we can’t do it without your support.
Stand with us as the voice for the St. Lawrence River by becoming a member or making a donation today.

 

A copy of our latest annual report may be obtained upon request at 409 Riverside Dr, Clayton, NY 13624 or from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 28 Liberty Street, 19th Flr, New York, NY 10005

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Water levels slightly lower than this time last year.

March 28th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

Water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are currently slightly lower than they were at this time last year.

Last year the Lake and River went on to set record highs in May, June and July due to a succession of unprecedented, intense rainfall events throughout their watersheds. This lead many property owners and politicians to intensely criticize the newly enacted Plan 2014 and the International Joint Commission (IJC) for not doing more to alleviate the problems high water caused.

In contrast, at this time in 2012 the levels were higher, higher even than last year, but as the region experienced an unusually dry spring and summer, levels on the Lake and River went down and stayed lower than average for the rest of the year. This lead many property owners and politicians to intensely criticize the (IJC) for not doing more to alleviate the problems low water caused.

What was missed by the critics in 2017 and 2012 and in every extreme water level year (high or low) since 1958 is the fact that no management plan will give us the tools to fine tune the levels of waterbodies as vast a Great Lake or to control the outcome of natural events – rain, snow, wind – that influence them.

The only constants across the years, other than the criticism of the water levels plan in place at that time, are the variability of the weather and the challenges of accurately predicting it long term. One other notable constant – the reminder that we need to plan carefully how we utilize the shoreline of these vast, dynamic waterbodies.

The editorial board of the Watertown Daily Times​ has a good take on the current management of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River levels in a Sunday editorial.

The editorial board acknowledges that, while it is still too early to predict where the water level will be this summer, there is no doubt that the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) in . . “following the recommended practices of Plan 2014 in overseeing outflows this winter . . .have allowed for a more orderly discharge of water in a manner that ensures safety.” The ILOSLRB has done this while achieving the goal of the Plan of “Improving the health of these waterways and creating an environment more suitable to wildlife will benefit all of us.,” as the editorial points out.

On a lake and river so clearly affected by intense and highly variable weather it sounds like they are doing a difficult job well.

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Celebrate World Water Day with Save The River

March 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

On March 22 we celebrate Water World Water Day. This year’s #WorldWaterDay focuses on how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century.

Did you know that an estimated two-thirds of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900 as a result of human activity? Wetlands naturally filter toxins and sediments from water and help protect against floods by trapping and slowly releasing surface water, rain, and snowmelt.

Nature-based solutions like restoring wetlands, reconnecting rivers to flood plains, and planting trees to replenish forests are sustainable and cost-effective methods to fight the effects of climate change. The answer is in nature!

At Save The River / Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper we’re all about a swimmable, drinkable, fishable St. Lawrence now and for generations to come. Join us! Click here to become a member or make a donation today. 

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Clean Water Safeguards Eliminated in Must-Pass Budget Bills

March 13th, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

Save The River will always stand in opposition to attacks on our nation’s most vital resource: clean water. We joined 115+ groups around the country urging our senators and congresspeople to oppose damaging ideological riders in spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2018: http://ow.ly/W1UR30iV3CW

Outdoor recreation is a way of life in New York, especially here on the St. Lawrence River. We can’t afford to eliminate conservation safeguards that protect our waters & wildlife. The dirty water riders attached to the upcoming federal budget vote will do just that.

The dirty water riders attached to the upcoming budget vote will undermine protections for drinking water that 1 in 3 Americans depend on, eliminate conservation safeguards that protect our waters & wildlife, and cut the public out of the decision making process.

Raise your voices to New York’s congressional leaders: ask them to reject all policy riders attacking safeguards for the St. Lawrence River and all streams, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and other waters that our families, communities, and economy depend on. Call them at (202) 224-3121.

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Director’s Waypoints, Winter Conference Edition

February 20th, 2018 | Posted by Lee Willbanks

Go to this edition of Director’s Waypoints

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Thank You!

January 11th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

Watertown Daily Times editorial makes the point. Breaking ice to get ships to locks they can’t get through once they’re there just doesn’t make sense.

   Watertown Daily Times, January 11, 2018

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Seaway Closing Update

January 9th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

from the Seaway:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We look forward to the opportunity for a discussion of the time and manner of selecting and modifying the opening and closing dates of the Seaway. Particularly in light of increasing variability in weather on the Lake and River.

We appreciate the fact that the challenging and dangerous nature of some incidents requires extreme effort and resources. And it is always our fervent hope that any and all incidents end with no injury and no environmental harm. But as we made clear with respect to the Federal Biscay, we believe the public must get timely updates from official sources about the nature of any incident and the steps being take to bring it to a safe and successful conclusion.

We are glad the 2017 Seaway season can come to a close with the ships cleared, the crews, responders and Seaway personnel safe and the River laying up while we all wait for spring.

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