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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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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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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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Save The River’s 29th Annual Winter Environmental Conference

December 8th, 2017 | Posted by Lee

 

Save the date! Or, better yet, sign up and lock in your attendance now.

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Save The River’s Statement to Senate Committee Hearing on Flooding

October 10th, 2017 | Posted by Lee

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No Wake Zone within 600 feet of Lake Ontario or St. Lawrence River shorelines!

July 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Lee

Use Caution! Be Respectful!

Boat around others’ docks, boathouses, and property like you want them to boat around your’s.

Please share this widely.

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Scientists tell Oswego paper, “Plan 2014 not to blame for Lake Ontario flooding”

June 30th, 2017 | Posted by Lee

In another well-researched and well-sourced story, this one in today’s Palladium-Times by reporter Seth Wallace, the paper asked “nearly a dozen experts on geology, biology, meteorology, other earth sciences and international law”,

Did Plan 2014 cause the flooding?

The answer,

Without exception the answer came back the same: No, Plan 2014 did not cause the flooding.

The article also sheds new light on the strength of claims being made by some of the state’s elected officials that Plan 2014 is to blame for this year’s high water.

“The Palladium-Times made multiple requests this week to both [Rep.] Katko and Tenney’s offices to provide any data they had received from any expert that showed evidence of Plan 2014 as the cause of the flooding.

Both offices were either unwilling or unable to produce such evidence.”

As we have said all spring, the solution to this year’s high water is not a return to a plan under which the same conditions have repeatedly occurred. Instead we need to use our resources and political will to assist those impacted now and ensure what we build takes Nature’s role and the reality of dynamic water bodies and shorelines into account.

The full article is worth a read.

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High Water! Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Says ‘Stop the blame game’

June 27th, 2017 | Posted by Lee

It is time to stop playing the blame game“, so says the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle editorial board in a June 24th editorial, referencing an article exhaustively examining the causes of this year’s high water published the same day.

As they have done all spring, with water levels, tempers and frustrations rising, authors Steve Orr and Meaghan M. McDermott drilled into the issue of why the water is high and who, if anyone, is to blame.

For the article,”High winds, high water, lots of hot air: Facts and fiction about Lake Ontario’s Plan 2014“, they went behind the angry statements being made by south shore residents and elected officials, and Governor Cuomo accusing the International Joint Commission (IJC) of everything from incompetence to outright malfeasance.

Summing up their research:

“Cut off one head of the ever-shifting explanations for why the waters are seeping into yards, gouging away the shoreline and smashing the boulders designed to hold the lake back, and two more wild theories spout. . . .

In fact, three months after high water on the lake first began to bedevil property owners, there is no proof whatsoever that the fault lies anywhere other than with nature.”

Based on the article, the editorial board concludes,

“Rather than continuing this futile exercise [blaming the IJC], leaders should be joining lakeshore residents in exploring ways to better protect coastal property in the years to come, while respecting the rights of others who are affected by the rise and fall of this Great Lake.”

To which we at Save The River would only add “and this great River, the St. Lawrence.”

In fact, in an April letter published in many papers around the state, we said as much. “The solution to this year’s high water is not a return to a plan under which the same conditions have repeatedly occurred. Instead we need to use our resources and political will to assist those impacted now and ensure what we build takes Nature’s role and the reality of dynamic water bodies and shorelines into account.”

The full article, “High winds, high water, lots of hot air:Facts and fiction about Lake Ontario’s Plan 2014” is worth a close read.

The editorial, “Stop blaming the International Joint Commission” is also worth a full read.

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