Senators say maximizing Moses-Sauders dam outflows now will stave off property damage & economic losses of Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River communities already reeling from pandemic
Schumer, Gillibrand to IJC: Action now will prevent devastation of Lake Ontario next spring
Continuing their efforts to secure federal support for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River’s communities at risk of flooding every spring, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday demanded the International Joint Commission grant the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board the authority to deviate from Plan 2014 this winter and increase Moses-Saunder dam outflows above levels detailed. Schumer and Gillibrand explained this allowance will be crucial to lowering Lake Ontario’s water levels in anticipation of spring draining from upstream Great Lakes, all of which are at above average water levels for December.
With Lake Erie alone already at 25 inches above average, the senators said the deviation from Plan 2014 will help stave off significant flooding and related property damage, devastating economic losses, dislocation, and negative impacts on quality of life during a global pandemic.
“After experiencing record flooding in 2017 and 2019, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River communities were able to avoid devastation this year in the middle of a pandemic because of swift action last winter to deviate from Plan 2014 and increase outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam,” Schumer said. “The success of that simple action last year prevented flooding and saved the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence communities a year of heartache and economic devastation.”
He added, “That’s why today I’m urging the IJC to grant the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board the authority to expediently take action to mitigate the risk of future flooding in these communities. With the risk of future flooding rising with each inch of water in the Great Lakes upstream, we must act now to prevent a repeat of 2017 and 2019.”
Gillibrand said, “In the midst of a global pandemic, we cannot risk further economic loss and dislocation of families who are already in crisis. We know that a proactive approach can help to alleviate risk of flooding for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River’s communities, and we must act now. Allowing the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to increase outflows is necessary to reduce levels to a more manageable amount before next spring. I urge the IJC to immediately grant the authority to take these preventative measures to avoid significant flooding and further economic devastation for New Yorkers.”
A press release noted, “Last winter, despite the fact Lake Ontario’s water levels were 20 inches above average, then-action by the IJC to allow deviations from Plan 2014 to boost outflows at the dam helped spare the region from spring 2020 flood risks. The senators, citing the success of last year’s measures, are therefore requesting the IJC to take the same actions this winter to prevent flooding in the spring of 2021.”
Schumer and Gillibrand recalled that, in 2017 and 2019, many communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, economic dislocation and significant negative impacts to quality of life. The senators played a paramount role in securing aid for these communities, including pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a major disaster declaration for Cayuga, Monroe, Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne counties, and arranged for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deploy two expert federal mitigation teams to Lake Ontario communities to help address the flooding issues. The senators explained that, while the federal aid did provide Lake Ontario communities with relief at the time, immediate action from the IJC and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control is critical to help protect these communities this year.
Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the IJC appears below:
Dear International Joint Commission Chairs Corwin and Beland:
We write today to request that the International Joint Commission (IJC) take action to increase Moses-Saunder dam outflows above the levels called for in Plan 2014. To decrease flood risks to Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River homeowners, businesses, and communities we urge you to draw down more water off Lake Ontario by granting authority to the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (Board) to deviate from Plan 2014 during this winter.
As you know in 2017 and again in 2019, communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, devastating economic loss, dislocation, and negative impacts to their quality of life. When Lake Ontario’s water level climbed to more than 20 inches above the historical average in early 2020, residents were justifiably concerned that they were facing another flood filled year. Then-action by the IJC to boost outflows and deviate from Plan 2014, combined with some fortunate weather conditions, helped spare the region from a third year of floods.
We appreciate the action the IJC took last winter to deviate from Plan 2014 and increase outflows which ultimately reduced the peak level of Lake Ontario by seven inches and encourage the IJC to do the same this winter. Currently Lake Ontario’s water stands at 244.78 feet, almost three inches higher than its historical average for this time of year. More concerning is that Lake Erie’s water level is now 25 inches higher than its long-term monthly average for December. Lake Erie is not alone, each of the upstream Great Lakes are above their long-term monthly average December levels, and as you are well aware, all of that water will ultimately drain into Lake Ontario.
Particularly as Lake Ontario communities and homeowners are more strained as they confront new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical for the IJC to reduce water levels now to safeguard Lake Ontario communities from spring flood risks. We appreciate your efforts last year and your consideration of this matter again this year.