Lake Ontario Flooding: A look at what was before Plan 2014

Local News

A large focus on Lake Ontario water levels has been on outflow. Some have criticized the new plan to regulate water levels that went into effect in 2016.  One professor told News 8 that the problems experienced on the lake would have been just as bad with the old plan in place. 

Doug Wilcox, Ph.D., SUNY Brockport Empire Innovation Professor of Wetland Science said the flooding this year was a result of a flooded downstream and upstream.  “Lake Superior’s a record high, Lake St. Clair, record high, Lake Erie, record high, Michigan and Huron, close to record high,” said Wilcox. Most of it comes over Niagara Falls and into Lake Ontario. 

“We’ve done paleo-lake level studies going back about  5,000 years. They show a pattern of high lake levels occurring about every 160 years.” This could be a long term pattern that is repeating itself. Actual strong records of Lake Ontario water levels kept by the Army Corps of Engineers go back to 1919. Lake level records for Lake Ontario have been broken in 2017 and 2019 

The International Joint Commission has been doing everything it can to lower water levels since early May when water levels reached Criterion H14. This means that outflow is managed to reduce flooding all across the basin. 

This scenario is the exact same as they would have done before Plan 2014. “The control board controls the flows through the dam the same way as they were doing through the old regulation plan,” said Wilcox. 

He said there is no regulation plan that could ever be invented by man to prevent high levels on Lake Ontario now. In fact, he said the old plan (1958DD) was doing major harm to wetlands and areas around the Lake Ontario basin that protect it from flooding.  

Before Plan 2014 the IJC kept lake water levels stagnant. It was like that for more than 50 years, preventing the wetlands from rebuilding. Scientists are using examples of other unregulated lakes to prove how healthy Lake Ontario can be.  

Wilcox says low lake levels can have a significant positive impact on Lake Ontario and expects to see upcoming years that get low lake levels. More information on lake level regulation can be found here 

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