SODUS POINT, NY (WROC) – While Lake Ontario has flooded in 2 out of the past 4 years, some are getting prepared for what could become a rough 2021. Lake Ontario is currently just a few inches above average. Though Lake Ontario water levels are not the concern right now, according to lakeshore resident Bernie Gigas.
“If everything was normal, this would be great. The problem is the upper Great Lakes are all full,” said Gigas. He is also a part of a Public Advisory Group to GLAM (Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee) that helps the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) in their decisions when it comes to outflow through the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River.
The board is underneath the International Joint Commission (IJC) and follows Plan 2014 for outflows that have a small influence on Lake Ontario water levels. A large portion of 2019 and early 2020 the board deviated from Plan 2014. Recently the board got approval from the IJC to return to some of those deviations that had ended once water levels stabilized.
“If we were already at high water above the trigger limits, then they wouldn’t need separate permission, but right now we’re not so the IJC has to grant formal permission for the board to deviate, which is what they’ve done.”
While any deviation may result in only a few inches, many say this can make a real difference. Save Our Sodus president David McDowell: “It is worth the effort, because walls are all so high,” said McDowell.
A lobbying push by Lake Ontario homeowners, businesses, and organizations may have been key to the IJC granting access to deviate from Plan 2014. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand both wrote a letter to the IJC encouraging deviations. ILOSLRB Secretary for the United States and part of the Army Corps of Engineers Bryce Carmichael said the board focuses on the science and data to make informed decisions on how to regulate the outflows when deviating from Plan 2014. Impact to shipping, ice formation, downstream impacts and more are all taken into consideration.
“We got lucky in 2020 because we were at drought, or near-drought conditions the entire year. What’s going to happen next year? Nobody knows,” said McDowell. Sodus Point has just begun a year-long project to build underground electric pumps to get rid of water from future floods. The $9 million funding came from the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI). These pumps are one of four project expected to be done at the end of 2021.
The forecast for Lake Ontario water levels varies greatly from a few inches below normal to a few inches below record. Bernie Gigas says it comes down to the Ottawa River. “If we have high inflow from Lake Erie, and high Ottawa River flow, we’re going to flood. We already have one of those for sure, and the other one we don’t know, so it’s a concern,” said Gigas.