The gallery at Cobourg Council was standing room only when Sarah Delicate of United Shoreline made her presentation to Council at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. Sarah gave an excellent summary of the situation with the flooding on Lake Ontario where new rules for controlling lake levels have been put in place per the new Plan 2014. Introduced in 2017, this replaces Plan 1958DD which was in place from the 1950’s to 2016. The key difference is that Lake Levels are now allowed to vary much more widely with a high level 30 cm (one foot) higher than previously. Her full presentation is available at the link below but I will provide a summary. MPP David Piccini was also at the meeting and spoke in support of Sarah.
The same group made a similar proactive presentation to County Council in April this year (see report in link below) but the only action taken by the County was to recommend that the Provincial and Federal governments be requested to strike a committee to review mitigation and safety plans for the communities affected.
We were told that the flood of 2017 was highly unusual but the even higher levels in 2019 point to a likelihood of many repeats. The new plan effectively is a “plan for floods” but worse is the fact that there are no Provincial of Federal plans to mitigate or compensate for the effects despite the fact that these are legally required. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is sufficiently concerned that he is suing the International Joint Commission (IJC) which is responsible for this fiasco.
Some Facts (per Sarah’s presentation)
- 85% of Lake Ontario inflow comes from Lake Erie which is currently at a record high.
- Lake levels are controlled by the Moses Saunders Dam in Cornwall which controls outflow and follows rules set by the IJC. The commission has 3 Canadian members and 3 from the U.S.
- Plan 2014 is designed to allow for “higher highs” and “lower lows” on Lake Ontario, over extended periods of time.
- The “average” level with plan 2014 is 6 cm (2.4”) higher but the extremes allowed are 30 cm (a foot) higher.
- The range allowed has changed from 4’ to 7’ – then add ½ – 2 meter waves!
- They could have released more water in the fall so we were lower coming into the spring (L. Erie record highs…). But Plan 2014 does not allow it. The levels are left high, by design. [You might say that the flood is deliberate].
- When the commission says that they are releasing the ‘maximum possible’, what they actually mean is the maximum permissible by Plan 2014, not the maximum humanly possible. They cannot deviate until extreme triggers are reached.
- Approximately 60% of the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline is residential land use. An estimated 25,000 privately owned riparian properties are located on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River upstream of the Moses-Saunders Dam.
- Municipalities appear to be the losers in Plan 2014. (Hydro and Shipping are winners)
- The claimed benefits of plan 2014 to wetlands are not supported by Science according to Dr. Frank Sciremammano who was a member of the IJC study (since fired) and is a current member of the International St-Lawrence River Board of Control.
- Plan 2014 will cost millions in coastal damages and emergency response but the burden is on Municipalities and shoreline citizens.
After Sarah’s presentation, Shannon Murphy, Cobourg’s Emergency Planner said that having heard Sarah’s presentation, she was now convinced that the existing “all hazards” emergency plan was not sufficient and that a specific floods peril plan was required (Mayor John Henderson agreed with this).
Over the past weeks, many councillors have visited affected properties and have seen the problems first hand. But the Town’s official reaction to date has been to offer sandbags but no labour assistance.
Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin said that this is a wake-up call and we should not be asking citizens to fill sandbags.
One comment I heard was “if the Fire Department comes to put out a fire at a valuable home on the waterfront, why does it not also help with a flood danger?” Sarah said that in Bowmanville (where she lives), the Fire Department does help. They are trained to organize volunteers with sand bags etc.
One of the problems is getting the Provincial and Federal Governments to take notice. MPP David Piccini is helping with a letter to the Ministry and other MPPs are also assisting. But so far, there has been no response to these requests for help. David’s letter to Catherine McKenna Minister of Environment and Climate Change includes the statement:
I am writing to stress the need to review the International Joint Commission (IJC) plan from 2014 which was created to control water levels along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Given the regular occurrence of these catastrophic floods and the calls from New York State and impacted municipalities on both sides of the borders, I urge you to engage with Ontario and representatives from Quebec, New York State and the IJC to immediately review Plan 2014 and recommend changes to protect landowners. Simply put, the plan is not working and does not protect the shoreline communities on Lake Ontario.
Separately, he has also reminded citizens of the availability of Disaster Recovery Assistance programs.
At the end of all the discussion, Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin made a (long) motion that asked the Federal and Provincial Governments to review Plan 2014 and to evaluate it for “effectiveness and verifiable impacts” and that a committee be formed to “review mitigation and safety plans for the communities fronting the Great lake and the St. Lawrence Seaway”. The full motion is available at a link below.
And given the comments by Shannon and John Henderson, an Emergency Flood plan will be created for Cobourg.
- Presentation by Sarah Delicate of United Shoreline
- Motion by Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin – this motion passed but will need to be confirmed at the regular council meeting on July 2.
- Cobourg Lakefront Properties being damaged by Floods – 17 June 2019
- Letter from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – 8 June 2019
- Lake Levels at Cobourg – Fisheries and Oceans Canada – source of data on lake levels
- Concerns about High Lake Levels – 13 April 2018 – explanation of Plan 2014 (and concern) by delegation to Northumberland County Council
- United Shoreline Web site