New ups and downs for the St. Lawrence

 

Building on 50 years of experience, a five-year binational study and extensive public comment, The International Joint Commission (IJC) has released a fact sheet outlining a draft new approach to manage water levels and flows in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River system.

Water levels and flows of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are primarily determined by natural factors including rainfall and snowmelt. 

Under the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) 1956 order of approval, the regulation of flows through the Moses-Saunders Dam has reduced the extremity of high and low water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. 

This has benefitted a range of interests upstream and downstream of the dam, including coastal property, recreational boating, hydropower production, commercial navigation and municipal water suppliers. 

However, the current regulation plan is based on the conditions of the last century, with no regard for environmental consequences and no process for adapting to future challenges such as bigger storms and more severe droughts.

The IJC is now developing a new approach with the assistance of a Working Group of representatives from the governments of Canada, the United States, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and the State of New York.

The draft new approach will consider all interests – environmental, social and economic. 

While continuing to reduce extreme high and low water levels, the draft new approach would allow more natural level and flow patterns. 

This is expected to improve wetland health on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River on a scale larger than any restoration actions taken to date. 

The improvements to wetlands and other habitat would provide benefits such as higher quality sport fishing, boating, bird watching and other outdoor activities. 

An adaptive management program would regularly monitor conditions and periodically review the management of levels and flows. 

This would improve the capability to adapt to future changes, including socio-economic changes and significant changes in climate. 

Improved communication with governments and stakeholders in the basin is also an integral component of the draft new approach.

The IJC has had informal discussions with First Nations and Tribes, shoreline property owners, recreational boaters, environmental organizations, local officials and others in the basin about the proposed approach. 

According to the fact sheet, the draft new approach would: 

•Substantially improve wetlands, a key indicator for lake and river health. It is anticipated that wetland meadow marsh community, the most diverse and productive type of coastal wetlands in the basin, would increase by 40 percent.

•Retain protection for Lake Ontario coastal property, while increasing some shoreline protection costs. It is estimated that the new approach would maintain 88 percent of the benefits of reduced flooding, wave damage and shoreline protection maintenance provided by the current regulation plan.

•The boating season on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River would be longer in some years because of higher water levels in the fall. However, levels would occasionally be lower in the summer. 

•Pose no significant changes for interests along the St. Lawrence below the Moses Saunders Dam. Communities downstream from the dam would continue to receive flood protection benefits while also providing for adequate depths for the Port of Montreal and commercial navigation.

The International Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments.

The IJC intends to release additional information further detailing the specific draft new approach for full public review.

As well, informational sessions throughout the basin to further discuss the draft new approach with the public will be held in 2012.

Prior to finalizing a revised order and regulation plan, the IJC will conduct formal public hearings throughout the basin and carefully consider all public comment.

The International Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments.

IJC Press Release

 

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