Concerns about High Lake levels Occurring Again

A delegation to County Council on April 18 will ask Council to have emergency plans for the possibility that flooding from high water levels on Lake Ontario could happen again.  This may be aggravated by the recently implemented Plan 2014 which allows extreme lake levels to be 2.4 inches higher than previously.  The issue affects property owners in both the U.S. and Canada who have a Lake Ontario waterfront so they have formed a group called United Shoreline Ontario. The presentation talks at length about Plan 2014 and implies that it was a bad decision but the reason for it was to allow for greater variation in lake levels to help coastal wetlands.  The level in Lake Ontario is managed by determining the flows through the Moses-Saunders Dam located on the St. Lawrence River between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York.  Starting January 2017, new rules were implemented – just in time for the massive rainfall in 2017 and the resulting extreme high water levels.

Clarington, 2017
Clarington, 2017

The new rules (called a regulation plan) were developed by the International Joint Commission (IJC) after 16 years of study and replaced rules in place since the 1950’s (called Plan 1958DD).  The IJC accepts that there will be more erosion and resulting cost but says that the environmental benefits are worth this cost.  They summarize the benefits with:

Plan 2014 will allow “for more natural variations of water levels, the plan will foster the conditions needed to restore 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of coastal wetlands and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. The plan will also frequently extend the recreational boating season, better maintain system-wide levels for navigation and increase hydropower production.”

Previously:

“Plan 1958DD has unnaturally compressed water levels and harmed coastal ecosystems on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River. These impacts were not understood when the project was approved, but it is now widely recognized that ecosystem needs must be considered along with other interests.”

See the video below for the explanation by the IJC.

But the members of United Shoreline Ontario are not happy; they say:

In spring 2017, we experienced traumatic flooding over months. It changed every part of us. Our work, our family, our heart, our finances, our health and our security. There are ~100 homes in our community. We are all changed.

And that:

By design, this new plan allows for “higher highs” and “lower lows” on Lake Ontario over extended periods of time. This will have significant impacts on the shoreline, including erosion, flooding, and dry water wells.

Further, the following costs are not included (in the change to Plan 2014):

  • emergency response
  • damages to municipal infrastructure (roads, drainage, sewer)
  • damages to public parks and beaches
  • damages to properties on bays and creek inlets
  • lost economic activity from shoreline businesses
  • lost taxes due to decreased property values

United Shoreline Ontario members ask that Municipalities have suitable emergency plans and that they be compensated for property damage. (As required by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty).  Municipalities should then seek support from Provincial and Federal Governments (see their presentation for more on this).

Staff recommends that the presentation be “accepted for information”.

Video by IJC

Links

Update

12 May 2018. At the County Council meeting on May 16, staff will recommend that the Provincial and Federal governments be requested to strike a committee to review mitigation and safety plans for the communities that front the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway per concern raised above.  The County wants to be represented on that committee,

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Adm

The arguments against Plan 2014 is all about political positioning, not facts. It is my conclusion that last Years event had nothing to do with the criteria in Plan 2014 and if they were working to the criteria of Plan 1958DD the outcome would have been identical. It will take a few posts to explain…. So here goes…. What jumps out in “United Shoreline’s” presentation and some of the diatribe below is an overly simplistic set of arguments for a situation that is complex. Depending upon which side of the fence you sit there is, an over emphasis of certain aspects in isolation to support the group’s specific assestions. To have a rational discussion, one has to look at why the Cornwall control structure was put in place and what was happening at the time from a wholistic perspective, not just what was going on around Lake Ontario.. There are many criteria that govern how the Cornwall control structure is operated. To summarize simplistic terms the objectives of operating the control works are to create a head pond for the generating stations, to aid in seaway navigation, mitigate (but not solve) erosion above and below the locks, mitigate (but not… Read more »

Adm

A state of emergency as a result of flooding was eventually declared for many parts of the Island of Montreal, the Upper St Lawrence and the lower Ottawa Rivers. Decisions were made to hold back water not only in Lake Ontario, including rivers feeding into Lake Ontario (ie Rice Lake etc) but were also being done on lake and river systems that feed into the Ottawa River in the interior of Quebec and Ontario. The IJC would not be making decision in isolation. I would expect that the IJC would be talking to counterparts in the Ministry of Environment Quebec, Hydro Quebec, Ontario Ministry of Environment, OPG and directly affected Local and State / Provincial politicians, just to name a few. As a note here to show you the impact of Lowering Lake Ontario at that time, by 1cm, the volume of water would have raised Montreal Harbour 10 cm. So, the question becomes who would have been harmed the worst. To prove my point that the elevations in Plan 2014 had nothing to do with the situation, look to the chart in the Cobourg News Blog of May 3. You will see that the elevations for 2017 (under plan… Read more »

Dubious

That is an interesting spin on the facts! If I understand you correctly the flooding last year had nothing to do with any changes to the management of lake levels by the IJC; it was solely the result of heavy rains in April/May. Or as you wrote:

…the elevations in Plan 2014 had nothing to do with the situation.

I find that very hard to believe when I examine the facts.

Looking at the data provided by the Canadian Government (http://www.tides.gc.ca/C&A/bulletin-eng.html) shows that in March of 2017 Lake Ontario was already about 28 inches above historical levels. A prudent action, unless the desire were to create floods, would have been to begin releasing water at the maximum possible rate in March. Was that done? As additional evidence of a change in lake level management to the detriment of everyone living beside Lake Ontario, consider current lake levels. According to the official data, Lake Ontario in March was less than 3 inches below disastrous levels at the same time last year. Further, this March it was about 10 inches above the average for March since records started in 1918 (100 years ago). Is water being released at the maximum possible rate?

Adm

I know you’d like to think my dissertation as spin because it does not fit your narrative, but I gained over 25 years experience in the regulation of watersheds in Ontario for the purposes of power production / water management / flood control before I retired including dealing with IJC Directives on the operation of Lake Ontario Discharges. I am not forcing you to believe what I have discussed above, but I think I am somewhat of the authority on this subject within this blog post. While I cannot tell you exactly what happened on a day by day basis in 2017, as I was not privy to the many conference calls and data exchanges that would have taken place between the many stakeholders that manage the ENTIRE watershed last year, my historical interest in the subject led me to follow what was happening, as it happened, from a self interest perspective. My thoughts above were pieced together from knowing where to look for data, both during the event and post fact. That data combined with the history I have during these events in the past to deal with / regulate the flows for the Ottawa River, the St Lawrence… Read more »

Adm

More importantly, if they “reduce the Lake” as you suggest, to deal with the potential of a one off precipitation event, what do you do, if spring rains do not come leaving navigational interests high and dry….. I tell you from my own experience of dealing with this exact situation, these same entities complaining for not releasing enough water will be the same ones up in arms when their docks are out of the water, significant beach exposure and their boats are hitting rocks. Additionally, there may have been (in 2017 and again in 2018) be other factors such as Ice conditions above and below the control works that created other hazards preventing increased discharges in the winter / early spring. You are only surmising that they did not exist. The ideal situation is to try to stay within the goal posts while balancing the needs of everyone, not just us living on Lake Ontario. That doesn’t mean you won’t shoot wide from time to time . This idea that the implementation of the new Plan 2014 was the cause of the high levels was hatched by politicians on the NY side (Republican congressmen, Chris Collins and John Katko) that… Read more »

Dubious

Thank you for your knowledgeable and detailed comments.

You mentioned that you had studied the data from last year. Is there an online source that reports the current and historical outflow at Moses-Saunders?

If, as many claim, the climate is changing towards an increase in variability it would seem prudent to lower both the target level and its variation rather than raising it. If Plan 2014 raises the target maximum by 2.4 inches and increases the allowed variation, how will this affect the probability of extreme high level events such as last year recurring?

I look forward to better understanding what is happening!

Adm

http://ijc.org/en/islrbc/current_conditions Don’t know whether this is what your are looking for, or will help, but it gives a large amount of data in a couple of snap shots for a sense of what has happened in totality and is updated weekly showing current year to date -2 and long-term averages. The First chart shows the total discharges for river. If memory serves me correct, discharges above 9,000 cms (cubic meters /sec) while achievable and were done last year, create currents that are dangerous for navigation and equipment (Gates and structures) as well as exacerbates erosion above and more importantly directly below the structures. So, it is my guess that is why the flows were reduced once Lake Ontario was out of flood stages in late August / early September. The short dip and constant flow in late December to mid January indicates to me that they were attempting to build an Ice Cap for safety of the Hydro facilities. So my guess is that for all intents and purposes the discharge has been at near maximum since last June. More importantly, If you look at the Lake Ontario levels for 2018 you will see that we have made headway over… Read more »

Adm

https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLHCD.html

Another data set you might be interested in. The dashboard is interactive and contains a significant amount of historical data.

Adm

Further to my points to ponder above, if you are contemplating reducing the lake levels as the solution keep in mind the term “Environmental Amnesia” or “Generational amnesia”. Definition is “With each ensuing generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation in its youth takes that degraded condition as the nondegraded condition–as the normal experience” This phenomenon is “environmental generational amnesia” What this means in this case is that if you have a few years of lower water due to changes in target elevation, people will begin to accept this as the new norm and will build closer / further out into the lake. (People are inherently attracted to the water). Then when inflows elevations return to conditions similar to this past year, you are right back to where you started now only at lower starting levels. It is a vicious circle, and you do not get any further ahead by lowering the level now. You only move the problem out into the future. This is exactly what happened in the late 1980’s on Lake Huron and Lake Shebandowin. In both cases, the lake levels dropped due to lower inputs (low rains and low outputs from upstream sources)… Read more »

Miriam Mutton

I hope, too, that the County decision makers will exercise caution and consider good planning principles for the long term and in the public interest. If municipalities are still deemed to have ‘deep pockets’ when it comes to paying for damages, we the taxpayer have too much to lose if development is entitled to build to standards which do not adequately acknowledge the risk – such as varying lake levels. The taxpayer in general should not have to assume such risk.

Dubious

There is considerable logic in what you write. However, everything built in the last 50 years has assumed that the 1958 standards applied. I don’t believe that anyone (at least on this blog) suggested that the target levels be lowered. Why do you feel that it is unreasonable to retain the 1958 plan rather than either raising or lowering the target levels?

Adm

To understand my opinion you have to separate out two issues. Namely, 1) Did the operations to plan 2014 cause the extreme elevations, and corresponding flooding, and would previous plans have prevented it, and 2) Going forward, what is the impact of the difference between the plan 2014 and Previous plan’s. From everything I have read, observed, and understand from my previous experience, operations to plans prior to the 2014 plan would have resulted in the same affect (or Effect depending on linguistic) as previous plans. I have copied out what the IJC Q&A said about last year (as it summarizes my opinion best). “from January through late March, wet weather and unusual temperature fluctuations required that Lake Ontario outflows be almost continuously adjusted to manage highly variable ice conditions in the St. Lawrence River to prevent ice jams that could have severely restricted flows and resulted in immediate localized flooding. Then, from April through May, during this period of record inflows to Lake Ontario and record Ottawa River flows, Lake Ontario outflows were again almost continuously adjusted in order to balance high water impacts upstream and downstream. The outflows during the first five months of 2017 were all made… Read more »

Adm

Not sure why it posted twice but here is the rest of the of the quote “In summary, the Board managed outflows during the unusual and extreme weather conditions from January through late May according to Plan 2014 rules that were based on Board operations under the previous regulation plan. From late May through August, the Board did not follow the rules of Plan 2014, and instead the Board decided to release higher outflows in order to provide relief to Lake Ontario shoreline property owners. Starting in September, the Board returned to Plan 2014, which generally prescribed maximum possible flows while maintaining commercial navigation operations in the St. Lawrence Seaway throughout the remainder of 2017.” If you cannot get past the fact that plan 2014 did not give you any different result any previous plans any future discussion is Moot. Now to point 2. The previous plan which you say sets the standard fro existing facilities never guaranteed that they would not be subject to flooding by operating to the plan. And if you look closely at the slides by United Shoreline, they agree. They don’t come out and say it directly, but if you interpret their slides, with special… Read more »

Dubious

Thanks again for your comments.

To briefly summarize your analysis: 2017 was mostly handled under the previous rules and, in any case, the new rules should not make a huge difference in the future. I sincerely hope that everyone will enjoy another 99 years without a major flood!

I live near the lake but fortunately, due to the very local topography and protective barriers, I was not much affected by the flooding that heavily damaged nearby properties.

I try to keep abreast of developments that might affect me and I was completely unaware of any public consultations about proposed changes to lake level management. None of my friends, neighbours or local politicians have mentioned such sessions either. Perhaps in 2013 everyone was more concerned with now almost forgotten issues such as Prince George, Nelson Mandela’s death, Rob Ford’s crack usage or…

Adm

Your summary is not exactly what I was saying in that 2017 was not handled under the old plan. It is not easy to convey in words (Picture say a thousand words) so perhaps I did not do a good Job explaining. Lets try this another way. Plan 1958DD with its lower maximum target trigger levels was in effect until the end of 2016. The operation of 2017 was governed by Plan 2014 with higher maximum target trigger levels than 1958DD. Target levels are only one of several criteria that govern the determination of discharges from Lake Ontario, so until the triggers are met elevation does not really play a part with respect to flood impact. Now what actually happened The actual elevations for January, February, March and April (until the flooding emergency in Montreal was declared) were below the 1958DD (even though they were not in effect). Since these elevations were below the targets of the new plan and the more importantly never got up to the lower levels that would have been stated in the old plans any assertion that the Operation to Plan 2014 (which has targets that are higher than 1958DD) as a cause of last… Read more »

Walter L. Luedtke

Relax Duby!
“… a deliberate change to destroy waterfronts and municipal infrastructure to, maybe, aid the fish and birds.”
If you can’t beat them, join them.
“Webbed feet, cat’s eyes and gills: Features are just some that humans could evolve to have to deal with a ‘water world’ due to global warming.”
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3396624/Webbed-feet-cat-s-eyes-gills-Features-just-humans-evolve-deal-water-world-global-warming-second-ice-age.html#ixzz5CkU2Jlw5

Dubious

Did you even look at the information that John provided? Certainly your comments indicate that you didn’t understand it. The cause of the current high water levels in Lake Ontario is not “global warming” or “climate change” but results from a conscious decision to value fish more than people.

Wally Keeler

The fallacy is that evolution to gills in humans will occur over a period of hundreds of thousands of years or more; certainly not in the next 100 or 200 years. Better to learn how to deal with high water from the Dutch.

Bill Thompson

I thought maybe so much high water retraction by large companies
may add to the water level problem,but I find that probably isn’t the case

Walter L. Luedtke

Thank you Mr. Thompson.
Not too sure what Nestle’s purchase of a well near Elora has to do with Lake Ontario shoreline flooding, though.

Bill Thompson

Possibly have a word with Nestle’s

Walter L. Luedtke

What’s a “Nestlie’s”?

Walter L. Luedtke

Last year’s flooding has featured endless wrangling about the cause of the high water.
Many shoreline residents and some politicians have blamed mismanagement by lake-level regulators, not that spring’s intense rainfall. This notion is deeply entrenched among property owners on the Ontario shoreline.
“But Lana Pollack Co-Chair of the International Joint Commission, has said Lake Ontario is too big and powerful to be controlled by regulators, who can adjust the level by changing the lake’s outflow.”
https://www.wkbw.com/news/ijc-chair-says-lake-ontario-will-flood-again-doesn-t-know-when
And with climate change it’s gonna get worse, more rain and more storms.
Google “Coastal Resilience”!

Dubious

Have you read (and understood) anything? The IJC has managed to control lake levels since the 1950s. Based on over fifty years of experience with no failures the statement that “Lake Ontario is too big and powerful to be controlled by regulators” is clearly untrue. At the insistence of Obama’s EPA the treaty was changed to encourage higher highs and lower lows. In the past, water was released proactively in order to control lake levels. In the new plan that discretion was removed and water is only released when it is already too high.

Walter L. Luedtke

Source?
I read http://ijc.org/en_/islrbc/LOSLR_QA
Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River 2017 High Water Levels – Questions and Answers.
Maybe more informative than FoxNews.

Dubious

Yes, perhaps better than Fox although I almost never watch Fox so cannot really comment.

That link describes the situation but glosses over the cause. “The outflows during the first five months of 2017 were all made according to the rules of Plan 2014, but these rules– namely, the “I” (ice) limit and “F” (flood) limit.” The problem is Plan 2014 which endeavors to produce a “more natural” fluctuation in lake levels rather than protecting the infrastructure built over the pas 50 years based on Plan 1954. That is a deliberate change to destroy waterfronts and municipal infrastructure to, maybe, aid the fish and birds.

CiW

No one told them where to live and what to do in their leisure time.

You want to live by the lake, then accept the consequences.

You want to sail, well too bad. Why don’t you simply drop anchor and use a dinghy to get to shore. Maybe you should sell the boat and buy an RV. You could book some time at the trailer park.

Miriam Mutton

I think this about recognizing what is happening, that change (i.e. climate change, global warming) is too big to contain or control by methods currently employed such as built infrastructure. In order to adapt it seems that science indicates returning Lake Ontario to its normal fluctuating self is the best course of action.

If my information is correct, Lake Ontario was the only great lake to have water levels regulated and evidence now shows that water draining into the Great Lake system is ever increasing. Seems that we have a choice … spend a lot of money (redirecting money from other needs) trying to hold back change so that it is business as usual or making the necessary adaptations to minimize damage and seize new opportunity.

The wildlife will certainly benefit and so will we. A healthier environment will reduce health care costs, too, among other things. It is easier and more effective to explain the problem and the solution using nice pictures of beautiful wildlife and wild places than using statistics trying to explain our path to doom via climate change if we do not adjust our ways.

Dubious

The climate is always changing. However, we have the power to at least mitigate the impact of the changes. Instead, the IJC, at the urging of the EPA, has done the opposite: do everything possible to make the situation worse. To your other point, I’m unclear how flooding areas around the lake will reduce health care costs. Perhaps you could provide an explanation of your reasoning? Please include a comparison of the hypothetical reduced health care costs to the economic impact of flooding.

Miriam Mutton

On mitigation, yes I see your point. Expert thinking now is that mitigation and adaptation are related and results are best when coordinated. Working with natural systems … referred to as blue-green infrastructure. What looks to be natural can be sized for optimum function especially in urbanized areas. For example, Cobourg is building a big pond that is designed to be dry (a big depression in the ground) until flooding fills it. The idea is to plan ahead, to better protect downtown downstream.

Being outside and enjoying the out of doors, including green spaces and woodlands, have been recognized as benefits to human health for generations. And, if the natural area like a wetland also serves to mitigate flooding and damage to places where people live … what is wrong with that? Not sure what else I could say. It is not the flooding and resulting anxiety and loss that improves human health.

Dubious

I’m glad that you agree that destruction from flooding doesn’t improve human health!

Development around Lake Ontario by municipalities and individuals was designed, approved and constructed on the assumption that the 1954 treaty would continue to be in effect to moderate fluctuations in lake levels. If lake levels were to rise due to Mother Nature then humans can, at great expense, mitigate the effects by building holding ponds or better drains or dykes or retaining walls or… Alternatively we can simply abandon our lakeside towns and move to higher ground. Recent high lake levels are not the result of uncontrollable climate change but are entirely due to conscious decisions by groups with more regard for birds and fish than for people. Welcome to the caring and politically correct world of 2018! The good news is that the unwanted tourists may be dissuaded by our free beach being under water.

Old Sailor

I have sailed on Lake Ontario for 35 years. I have never seen so much marina, residential and shoreline property damage as we all experienced in 2017.

How can the decision makers say that wide variations of lake levels will extend the boating season. In 2017 most of the ports on Lake Ontario were under water and had no power on the docks till August and could not receive visitors. Maybe extend the boating season to our regulators means start the boating season four months later than normal every year while the flood damage is repaired.

It is about time regulators acted in the interests of the majority of taxpayers. Fish and birds don’t pay any taxes. Last time I checked they don’t vote either. And they were both fine before the 2017 flooding. Lets get some common sense on Lake Ontario before it becomes the next Kinder Morgan standoff.

If you did not see the 2017 flood damage on Lake Ontario Google “Images for Toronto Island flooding damage”. Is that what we want going forward?

Laura Roberge

I so agree, people with their head up their butt & no thought for peoples needs. Same old, same old, no deeper thought put into it.. On another note instead of the Town dumping money into a play ground/water park, update the infrastructure downtown. Last June it could not handle the water capacity as the present system is too small & outdated. This helped to play a major part in the flooding of properties close to the lake.

Ahewsonator

What money is the town dumping into a water park? Even if that were the case if we could fix our infrastructure issues at the cost of and ease of building a playground I’m pretty sure it would’ve happened already. Unfortunately things aren’t so easy!

Walter L. Luedtke

“United Shoreline Ontario members ask Municipalities … that they be compensated for property damage.”
Sounds sort of typical!
Enjoy living close to the Lake and have the taxpayer assume the risks.

Dubious

Enjoy living in a country where the fish are more important than the people.

Lake levels have been tightly controlled for more than a half-century and everyone assumed that the control would continue. However, the rules were changed to improve the lifestyles of fish. It isn’t just individuals who live near the lake who are affected. Consider what happened at the taxpayer owned beach and marina in Cobourg, the beach in Toronto and… By design the destruction will continue. All hail Obama!

Ahewsonator

Oh dubious, yee who lacks the ability to think critically but exceeds at thinking selfishly. We are all interconnected, the lakes, the fish, the birds, all of us. A healthy lake leads to healthy fish leads to a healthy ecosystem leads to healthy communities and ultimately to healthy people. If Lake Ontario as an ecosystem ever were to fail we would have much bigger issues on our hands than some shore line erosion, let me tell you that much.