In 2016, after many years of development, Plan 2014 was adopted by the International Joint Commission as a new plan to manage water levels in the Great Lakes and the upper St. Lawrence River. This plan replaced the previous management plan that dated to the completion and flooding of the St. Lawrence-Seaway in 1958. Plan 2014 incorporated more than a decade of study to develop, promised to assist in restoring coastal wetlands, assist with climate change impact, and “continue to protect against extreme high and low water levels.” Recreational boaters, shoreline communities, commercial navigation and hydroelectric power generation were all considerations.
In the six years since the plan went into effect, we have seen in the Lake St. Lawrence region two years of record-breaking high water levels, and three years of low or extremely low water levels. The region is on track to finish 2022 on the extremely low end of the spectrum.
The impact of these drastic water level fluctuations is immense. Recreational boaters have seen their craft docked in mud more than 30 feet away from the former shoreline. Shoreline communities and the businesses that generate the bulk of their yearly income from the St. Lawrence have been financially hit. Commercial navigation has seen frequent warnings and orders put in place due to low water levels. The environmental impact of the wildly fluctuating water levels has negated the planned benefits for coastal marsh lands, fish habitat, and the local wildlife. In fact, the only area in the Plan 2014 that has not been greatly affected is hydroelectric power generation.
Since 2017, affected groups have lobbied the IJC and its International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River board to adjust, modify, or outright scrap the Plan 2014 management strategy. So far lip service has been paid, and minor deviations to remove more water from the Upper Great Lakes has been the result. Local concerns have not been addressed.
Federal, provincial, and local politicians have not gained any traction because this issue is bigger than just Eastern Ontario. Plan 2014 does not just manage Lake St. Lawrence, but the water from Lake Ontario that flows through the Seaway system. The IJC’s interests are now as in the 1950s, hydroelectric power generation first, large-scale shipping second, ignore the rest. The Lake Ontario basin has a significantly larger population in its watershed than that of Lake St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River east to Cornwall. This region’s concerns are inconsequential.
Residents, business owners, and shoreline communities, along with the environment, deserve equal consideration when dealing with water levels in this region. Action must be taken to noticeably modify the existing Plan 2014, or scrap it altogether and start over. We see the effects of doing nothing – and that must stop. Residents in this region deserve action to substantially address water level issues and not empty platitudes.