OTTAWA – Changes are on the way to the board that manages the water management plan for Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River.
The International Joint Commission announced November 24th that the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River board will be reformed, reducing the number of members of the board from 12 to six – three from Canada and three from the United States.
“The restructuring represents a streamlined approach for this Board,” said Jane Corwin, chair of the IJC’s US section. “Commissioners enlarged the board last year, but after careful consideration determined that a smaller decision-making body with input from a more-inclusive advisory body would be more effective and appropriate.”
Appointees to the board include one representative from the Canadian government, and one each from Ontario and Quebec. There will be two appointees from the US government and one from the State of New York.
The ILOSLR board oversees Plan 2014, the controversial river management plan adopted to manage water levels and flow on Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River between Lake Ontario and Quebec. That plan has been criticized by many for the wildly fluctuating water levels on Lake St. Lawrence.
Changes to the ILOSLR were announced after a review was made by the IJC.
“On behalf of IJC Commissioners, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all members of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board who have served above and beyond the call in recent years and have provided excellent leadership in the face of extremely challenging conditions,” said Pierre Béland, chair of the IJC’s Canadian Section.
The restructuring of the ILOSLR board was welcomed by local river advocate Cliff Steinberg from Ault Island. Steinberg has been advocating for Lake St. Lawrence users for the past three years and said the change was needed and a positive step forward.
“At one point, the previous board had one commissioner from Ontario and five from Quebec,” he said. “This restructured board is more fair and equitable.”
The IJC jurisdiction on the St. Lawrence River ends just east of Cornwall Island where the river ceases to be an international waterway.
Steinberg is a member of the public advisory group for the ILOSLR of users of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. That group, along with the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management committee or GLAM, will be providing more guidance to this new incarnation of the ILOSLR board.
“I think they want to put more emphasis on the public advisory group and the GLAM for decision making,” he said. “That’s where the real information is coming out.”
While cutting representation on a board may have been seen as a negative in the past, Steinberg said that the situation between waterway users and the board has improved over the past three years. He attributed much of that to the inclusion of local information to the GLAM, and the creation of the public advisory group.
“The communication is much better,” he said. “We are being heard. Our concerns are being heard.”
He pointed to examples like this year, when the board removed a deviation from Plan 2014 so that water levels would remain at a higher level longer for boaters, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That deviation was put in place at the end of the shipping season in 2019 to drain more water off Lake Ontario to help prevent shoreline flooding. It attributed to extremely low water levels along the river in January.
“[The IJC] were going to deviate longer and keep the water levels low which would have meant we wouldn’t have any water to get our boats into our docks and marinas,” Steinberg said adding that the advisory group made a presentation and the board agreed.
“What that meant was they could maintain the water level similar to the level of the Thanksgiving boat haul out,” he explained. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than what was originally planned.”
Steinberg feels that the IJC is now paying attention to the concerns of those along the St. Lawrence River. That said, he explained that the board still has to follow the adopted Plan 2014.
“They are limited to what [the IJC] are going to be able to do, but they are now well aware of the conditions of this area and how it’s affecting people,” he said. “Things are improving though.”
The IJC did not announce a timeline on when appointments would be made to the new restructured board.
In a statement, the commission said it expected to have the restructuring complete in early 2021.
Established in 1909, the IJC provides oversight and management of joint waterways along the Canada-US board. The ILOSLR was created after the completion of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system in 1959.