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Planning Committee: Lake Ontario water levels already higher than at same point last year

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Wed, Feb 5th 2020 06:30 pm
The Village of Lewiston's boat launch is now fully repaired and open, following reconstruction work that was required after high water levels damaged the docks in 2019.
The Village of Lewiston's boat launch is now fully repaired and open, following reconstruction work that was required after high water levels damaged the docks in 2019.

Niagara County Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz told the Lake Ontario Planning Committee that current Lake Ontario water levels are already higher than at a similar period a year ago. Schultz said the current water level is 246.59 feet, about 9 inches above where they were on this date one year ago.

“All the Great Lakes water levels are high right now and, as you know, that water has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is Lake Ontario,” Schultz told the group of roughly 50 elected officials and representatives from local, county, state and federal offices. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons in battling this flooding in 2017 and 2019, so we want to begin planning immediately.”

Legislator Dave Godfrey said he was glad the group convened already as it is important to begin seeking the necessary assets that residents and businesses will need to combat the flooding.

“As Jon Schultz said, we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and we have a much better handle on the assistance we need to fight the flooding,” he said. “As we seek state and federal assistance, we need to be very clear and specific about our needs.”

To that end, Godfrey suggested local residents take a few minutes and complete the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River social vulnerability and economic loss survey developed by United Shoreline Ontario. This information will be used in seeking relief from the flooding damage. The survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/lakeontarioflooding.

Legislator John Syracuse again challenged the International Joint Commission and Plan 2014.

“The IJC must finally take some ownership for its failed policies and do right by the homeowners and businesses that have been so negatively impacted by Plan 2014,” he said. “It is plainly obvious in our conversations they have been most concerned with the needs of the shipping industry to the detriment of all others. We need them to look at their ability to both provide funding and push out the dates for maximum water flow even if that shortens the shipping season. The pain needs to be more evenly distributed.”

Legislator Irene Myers said the community cannot continue fighting this battle alone and needs more outside assistance as it again faces an uphill fight.

“Last year, there were 148 days of flood-fighting operations that really taxed residents and volunteers to the max,” she said. “I know we relied on a lot of people like our volunteer fire companies to keep pumps running. This year, I think we may need additional help from the National Guard.”

Schultz said a State of Emergency was declared last year at 248.8 feet, and would most likely be again this year based on observed conditions. He said he is planning for levels of 250 feet at peak this year.

“That level could necessitate some homeowner evacuations, so we need to be prepared for that,” Schultz said. “I hope I’m proven wrong, but right now, the signs are pointing toward a very challenging year along the lakeshore.”

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