Lake Ontario water levels climb back to average, Plan 2014 review continues

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A generally dry spring and summer across the Lake Ontario basin led to below average water levels since January 2021, bottoming out in mid-March at 244.4 ft.

That was around 6-10″ below average. Now after a wet stretch through July, water levels have jumped to normal levels heading into the fall.

Levels started to go up because of typical spring melt in April, but consistent lack of moisture led Lake Ontario to drop again into summer.

Late June and early July water levels ran more than a foot below average, causing problems for some boaters and marinas.

The trend switched in July as rains across the basin went above average. Rochester ranked as fifth wettest July on record.

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is working toward making sure water levels remain at a desired level by monitoring forecasts and adjusting levels at various dams across the Great Lakes.

A small change in flow along the Moses-Saunders Dam can result in drastic changes downstream.

Jane Corwin, US Chair of the International Joint Commission addressed the public in a webinar on Friday, August 27, acknowledged how difficult the flooding has been and the direct contrast that is to 2021.

“Many of us find ourselves faced with the opposite trend of low water and drought conditions across most of the US Canadian Border. We understand that conditions have been very challenging for many of you and we want you to know that we are listening.”

Aaron Thompson, Canadian co-chair of the Intl Niagara board of control noted that 2015 to 2019 was the wettest stretch on record for the Great Lakes period. That was followed by significant drought conditions in May 2021.

Nearly all of the Ottawa River Basin ran at drought conditions through the spring, that contributes in dictating water flow through the Moses-Saunders Dam. Flow is calculated using Plan 2014 that takes into account environmental impacts, Great Lakes inflow, Municipal water intakes, commercial navigation, ice management, and downstream flooding.

Image taken from the IJC. Note the small Lake Ontario

The international Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River board is run by three Canadians and three Americans.

According to the ILOSLRB, changing flow through the Moses Saunders dam can dramatially alter water levels at Lake St. Louis and Montreal. These flows are being analyzed by the Great Lakes Adaptive Management (GLAM) team that is working on an expedited review of Plan 2014. This has supported deviations of decisions to prevent peak water levels seen in both 2017 and 2019. This should be done by October 2021.

Lake Ontario forecast water levels are expected to remain near normal through early 2022.

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