St. Lawrence River Water Levels – Is Plan 2014 to Blame?
The St. Lawrence River is running high -about 18” higher than the average for this time of year. So is Lake Ontario. And, so are the passions of shoreline property owners impacted by the high levels, local elected officials and some journalists.
Anger, frustration and a demand for answers about why it is happening, how can it be stopped and what will prevent it from happening in the future are understandable reactions to homes and property being threatened.
Unfortunately, in the case of this Spring’s high water the blame is being misplaced and the solution being sought is no solution at all.
Is the new water management plan – Plan 2014 – the reason the water is high?
No – the Lake and River would be at similar levels whether Plan 2014 was implemented or not.
Is Plan 2014 the reason water isn’t being let through the dam to lower the Lake and River?
No – the Board of Control is doing all they can to fairly balance and minimize flooding on both Lake Ontario and on the River at Lake St. Louis (at Montreal). They have made numerous flow adjustments in recent days to keep this balance. Adding to the challenge is the fact that Ottawa River outflows have recently been at record high values.
Why are water levels higher than in previous years?
It is important to remember that neither the River or the Lake are isolated bodies of water, they are part of a large, complex system. A system that holds 40% of North America’s freshwater.
Nature plays the biggest role in water levels in the Lake Ontario- St. Lawrence River system. The River is fed by the outflow from Lakes Ontario and Erie, snowfall, and rainfall and runoff. And at times its outflow must be controlled due to conditions on the lower river below the Moses-Saunders Dam.
It is also important to remember that there have been several periods of higher water in the past under the previous plan – Plan 1958DD.
The water in the St Lawrence is higher than last year because the supply of water flowing into it has been greater. And the water it has received has had to be held back at times because the river below the dam has experienced flooding and evacuations.
According to the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board,
“The wet conditions have resulted in rapidly rising water levels throughout the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River system. . . To prevent . . . levels from rising further and causing more extensive damage [below the dam], the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board reduced outflows from Lake Ontario in accordance with Plan 2014.” 
What will Plan 2014 mean for water levels in the future?
Water levels have and will always fluctuate. It is important to understand that while we on the River tend to like our water levels to be on the higher side, the health of the St. Lawrence depends on having a variety of levels including some infrequent low levels. In a very few years, likely 6 or fewer years per century, levels will drop below the long-term average when water supplies to the River are naturally lower. These occasional low levels are essential to the health of the fish, the wildlife and the wetlands of the St. Lawrence River.
Even if Plan 2014 isn’t responsible for this year’s high water, why was a new plan needed?
When the Moses-Saunders Dam was built in the 1950’s it meant the St. Lawrence River no longer ran wild and a plan for managing its levels and flows had to be developed. That plan – Plan 1958DD – in operation for over 50 years, led to the loss of 64,000 acres of wetlands, the destruction of critical habitat and the decimation of key species like Black Tern and Northern Pike. In the 90’s it became clear a new plan was needed to stop the slow death of the River.
The new plan – Plan 2014 – was implemented this past January after years of study, input from communities and individuals all around the Lake and River, and review by the governments of Canada and the United States. It is intended to set water levels more in tune with the natural conditions.
By allowing for a more natural cycle of high and occasional low water, Plan 2014 will improve the overall health of the River, restore critical wetland habitat and species, and provide greater economic opportunities for the River region’s tourism-based economy. This Spring’s water levels are on track with Plan 2014 and should begin to have positive results.
Click here for more information on Plan 2014
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