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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 Plan 2014 replaced the outdated Plan 1958D, which was drawn up when environmental science was in its infancy.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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