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A file photo showing damage caused by past flooding events.
A file photo showing damage caused by past flooding events.

NYS agencies monitoring Lake Ontario water levels following heavy rainfall


Wed, May 10th 2023 09:30 am

Lake Ontario's water level is currently above 247 feet; forecasts suggest level may rise; lowest points along the lake begin to flood at 248 feet

√ DEC, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services continue to monitor forecast & lake levels

√ Agencies ready to deploy more than 25,000 filled sandbags to local emergency managers to mitigate impacts of potential flooding in lakeshore communities

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced New York state agency personnel are closely monitoring the rising water levels along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, as lake levels have surpassed 247 feet, following prolonged rainfall throughout the Great Lakes system in recent weeks.

Her team said, “While water levels have yet to reach and are not forecasted to reach the flood stages seen in 2017 and 2019, agencies including the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services are coordinating efforts and preparing resources to assist lakeshore communities with potential flooding impacts. Agencies will make sandbags, pumps and other flood mitigation resources available to local governments, as needed, over the coming weeks.”

Hochul said, "Residents who live and work along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River have faced tremendous challenges in recent years but, by taking proactive measures and coordinating with our local government partners along the lake, we are ensuring our communities impacted by previous flood events have the resources and information they need to mitigate the impacts of potential flooding this year. We will continue to work together with our local and federal partners to monitor Lake Ontario water levels, and are ready to deploy resources to protect residents and businesses from flooding on the lakeshore."

Due to recent heavy rainfall in the Great Lakes system, Lake Ontario's water level is currently above 247 feet and forecasts suggest levels may continue to rise, as the International Joint Commission (IJC) manages water flows in the system to address flooding throughout the region. In recent years, the lowest points along the lake began to flood at approximately 248 feet. The historic maximum lake level is 249 feet.

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) is working closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation and other state agency partners to coordinate the availability of flood mitigation resources, including pumps and sandbags, should local emergency management officials request assistance. This past week, field staff from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) participated in a conference call with local partners from Cayuga, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego and Wayne counties regarding lake levels, and discuss the availability of state resources, should flooding become an issue. New York state is also coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on federally supported preparation efforts in advance of any potential elevated water levels.

DHSES Commissioner Jackie Bray said, "Several recent periods of heavy rain have led to above-average water levels on Lake Ontario. While there are no active reports of flooding, and the state's REDI projects have made the shoreline considerably more resilient to high water, we continue to monitor water levels and are prepared to assist shoreline communities with resources, if necessary."

DEC Commissioner and Lake Ontario REDI Co-Chair Basil Seggos said, "Preparation is key when it comes to the ever-changing water level conditions on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. DEC is working directly with Gov. Hochul, DHSES, the IJC, and other state and local partners to help ensure we have the information and materials needed to respond to any flood conditions that arise. Through the ongoing success in implementing the REDI program in the region, New York state assists and supports flood-prone communities along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River."

The following assets are available to deploy from the state's regional stockpiles to assist shoreline communities:

√ 957 water pumps

√ 1,474 generators

√ 20 sandbaggers

√ 1,589,805 sandbags

√ 403 traffic barriers

√ 580 traffic barrels

√ 35,224 feet of aqua dam

Hochul’s team said, “Record flooding in 2017 and 2019 caused extensive damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shorelines, and New York state worked closely with communities to help address the immediate needs with sandbags, generators, and a general permit still in effect to help expedite shoreline stabilization and structural repair activities. In 2019, the state's response was significantly bolstered with the creation of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, which is providing up to $300 million to benefit communities, improve long-term resiliency, and bolster local economies in the region.”

About the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI)

In response to the extended pattern of flooding along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in 2019, New York state established REDI to increase the resilience of shoreline communities and bolster economic development in the region. Five REDI regional planning committees, comprised of representatives from Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence counties, were established to identify local priorities, at-risk infrastructure and other assets, and public safety concerns.

The REDI Commission and REDI team are working with communities affected by the 2019 floods to advance 134 flood resiliency projects. These projects are designed to not only build back damaged or at-risk infrastructure, but to build back with climate resilience in mind. 

Hochul’s team said, “As climate-driven extreme weather increases, New York state continues its commitment to ensure that communities known to be most at-risk will be prepared. The projects selected through the REDI program will help ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors, while keeping the areas open and accessible during times of high water and extreme weather events. These projects include upgrades to storm sewers, raising and improvements to flood degraded roadways, and the dredging of key water ways that provide safe harbor and access to local business for recreational boaters, among others.

“The selected projects not only promote public safety, they also support the region's critically important tourism economy. Since the creation of the state's REDI program in 2019, 134 REDI-funded local and regional projects are underway, including 33 projects in the design phase, 46 projects in the construction phase, and 55 projects completed. Through the REDI dredging program, 20 navigational channels across eight counties were dredged.”

For more information about these projects, visit here.

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