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Clayton’s Save The River pushes for water regulation plan approval

June 16th, 2015 | Posted by admin

By Brian Kelly

Published: Tuesday June 16, 2015 by the Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — It has been a year since an updated regulation plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River was submitted for approval to the U.S. and Canadian governments, and Save the River is renewing its call for action on it.

The International Joint Commission, which oversees the regulation of the international waterways, has recommended the countries adopt Plan 2014, which would update two plans, Plan 1958-D and Plan 1958-DD, which have not been significantly updated in more than 50 years.

The plan took about 15 years and about $20 million to develop and has drawn widespread support from both sides of the border. IJC commissioners unanimously approved the updated plan June 17, 2014, and forwarded it to the U.S. and Canadian governments, where it awaits the approval of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

But that approval has not come and there is no timetable for when it will occur.

“There’s been no visible movement,” D. Lee Willbanks, executive director of Save the River, Clayton, told the Times editorial board Monday. “Basically, the word we get back is that the review is ongoing.”

Mr. Willbanks said that given the plan’s broad support and the amount of scientific research that went into its formation, he is uncertain why the governments have been slow to adopt it.

“We’re expecting them to not have questions because it’s been a 15-year process,” he said.

Much of the resistance to the plan has originated along the south shore of Lake Ontario, particularly in the Rochester area, where property owners along the shore typically believe the updated plan calls for water levels higher than they would be under unregulated conditions. The property owners fear flooding and shoreline erosion, as well as the possibility of decreased property values, among other concerns.

The flows of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are moderated through the release of water at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario. The IJC has determined that its earlier plans for the regulation of water levels and flows in the waterways have damaged ecosystems along the coast of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River over the last 50 years. The commission concedes that effects of the regulation of water flows and lake levels on ecosystems were not fully understood or considered when the existing regulation plan was developed, and Plan 2014 takes these effects into consideration.

“This plan would probably actually help (south shore residents) in the long run,” Mr. Willbanks said.

Mr. Willbanks said the plan’s approval by the federal government would receive a boost from an endorsement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been an advocate for environmental issues throughout his term as governor. But he has not expressed support for Plan 2014. Mr. Willbanks said he believes the Canadian government will adopt the plan once the U.S. government does so.

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