Record high Great Lakes water levels could mean another year of Lake Ontario floods

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Lake Ontario water levels are sitting at 246.49’, just six inches away from record levels for February.

The biggest concern is not Lake Ontario, it is what will be flowing into Lake Ontario. Every other Great Lake is at or above record levels for February and is only expected to get worse.  

Empire innovation professor of wetland science at the College at Brockport Doug Wilcox says record-high waters, while a part of a cycle, have never been this high in recorded history. 

“There are floods on the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and everywhere else in the country,” said Wilcox, “That is going on because there are is a whole lot more water, a lot more rainfall, and lake levels are high because of that.” 

Wilcox has spent decades analyzing Lake Ontario’s outflow plans. He was a part of the group of scientists who helped transition from Plan 1958DD to Plan 2014. While the plan does control outflow and makes a difference, Wilcox says Lake Ontario is like a bathtub. The drain can only get so large to match the water flowing into Lake Ontario from a flooded Lake Erie. 

“The control board is doing everything they can possibly do without damaging anybody, and everybody is going to take some damages,” said Wilcox. 

The outflow is controlled by the International Joint Commission with the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board. There are thresholds in which control the decision making by the board. Once certain thresholds are met, outflows can be manipulated to help protect life and property.  

New Yorkers have received tens of millions of dollars so far in help and could see more government aid if flooding continues in 2020. A much different scenario for the northern shores of Lake Ontario in Canada. United Shoreline: Ontario is an organization that is fighting to give homeowners on Lake Ontario a voice. President Sarah Delicate says the organization’s needs and values are not being taken into account.

“Literally not a single penny has gone to a homeowner on the shoreline,” said Delicate, “Or the St. Lawrence River, or Lake Ontario upstream of the dam.” 

Greece supervisor and member of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board Bill Reilich said he has been fighting for lowering lake levels since last year. “Everything is being done that can be done to let out as much water as possible,” said Reilich. 

One of his goals is to push the beginning of the shipping season back. This would allow higher outflows to last a longer time. 

“You can do rail, you can use trucking,” said Reilich. “It may cost a little bit more but there are alternatives. Certainly, I’m not worried if it costs more because I see the cost that each of the homeowners is paying on the southern shores of the lake.” 

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